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Breast Cancer: What Are the Symptoms?

Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area.

Breast Cancer: What Are the Symptoms?

Instead of worrying, educate yourself about the symptoms of breast cancer so that you know what to look for and how to proceed if you suspect you have the disease.

Let’s face it: As women, we all have wondered whether we might be next to be diagnosed with breast cancer – especially if we have a family member who has been diagnosed with the disease. And men don’t really worry since their risk of contracting breast cancer is significantly lower, although breast cancer does affect men as well.

But speculation only leads to worry. Following are symptoms that can indicate breast cancer.

A lump in the breast, no matter the location or size

The first sign of breast cancer is usually a lump or mass. It can be painless, hard and have uneven edges, or it can be tender, round and soft. The key is getting checked by a doctor if you feel anything unusual on or around your breasts.

Nipple discharge

Nipples have ducts, which means that discharge, regardless of the color, is normal. What is not normal and could be a sign of breast cancer is when the discharge contains blood or oozes from the areola surrounding the nipple.

Heightened sense of smell

Doctors aren’t quite sure how cells communicate using smell. But research has found that a heightened sense of smell can indicate a risk factor of breast and ovarian cancer.

Unusual swelling

If there is no reason for your breast to swell, such as infection from breastfeeding or an injury, get checked.

Nipple retraction

Do you notice your nipple turning inward and staying that way, when it normally does not? Make an appointment with your doctor to determine if there’s an issue.

Redness or peeling and flaking of the skin on your breast or nipple

Any change in the condition of your skin or breast could indicate an abnormality underneath.

Finally, it’s better to be safe than sorry. In the early stages, breast cancer may not have any symptoms at all. If you have a gut feeling that something’s not right, make an appointment and get yourself screened.

“The most important piece of advice for women is to get your screening mammograms,” said Maria Nelson, MD, assistant professor of clinical surgery at Keck School of Medicine of USC and a breast surgeon at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine of USC.

By Heidi Tyline King

As one of the eight original National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC is one of the preeminent academic medical institutions in the country. If you are in the Los Angeles area, make an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting