Symptoms & Signs

of Breast Cancer

The suspicion of breast cancer often first arises when a lump is detected in the breast during breast examination or a suspicious area is identified during screening mammography. In order to diagnose the cause of the suspicious area or lump in the breast, a physician will perform a biopsy. Other signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Skin Changes with the Breast- skin can feel itchy develop redness in color. With inflammatory breast cancer, swelling and a dimpled look to the skin may occur.
  • Swelling- may occur as the cancer grows.
  • Nipple Discharge- Any type of fluid that comes from the nipple; yellow, the color of blood.
  • Pain- in the breast can be a warning.


There are many types of breast tumors. Some breast tumors are benign (not cancerous). Benign breast tumors such as fibroadenomas or papillomas do not spread outside of the breast and are not life threatening. Other breast tumors are malignant (cancerous). The most common type of breast cancer is called ductal carcinoma and begins in the lining of the ducts. Another type of cancer is called lobular carcinoma, which arises in the lobules.

Breast cancer can be invasive or noninvasive. Invasive breast cancer is cancer that spreads into surrounding tissues. Noninvasive breast cancer does not go beyond the milk ducts or lobules in the breast.

  • Ductal carcinoma. Starts in the cells lining the milk ducts and make up the majority of breast cancers.
    • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). This is cancer that is located only in the duct.
    • Invasive or infiltrating ductal carcinoma. This is cancer that has spread outside of the duct.
  • Lobular carcinoma. Starts in the lobules.
    • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). LCIS is located only in the lobules. LCIS is not considered cancer.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer is a faster growing more aggressive cancer accounting for ~ 5% of all breast cancers.

Less common types of breast cancer include:

  • Medullary
  • Mucinous
  • Tubular
  • Metaplastic
  • Papillary breast cancer

Genetics is extremely important; women with a family history of breast cancer in a first degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) have an increased risk of breast cancer and often have inherited genes that increase their risk of developing breast cancer.1,2

Risk Factors for Developing Breast Cancer

  • Older age
  • A personal history of breast cancer or benign (non-cancer) breast disease
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Genetic risk: BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
  • Dense breasts
  • Exposure of breast tissue to estrogen made in the body
  • Taking hormone therapy for symptoms of menopause
  • Prior radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Obesity
  • Drinking alcohol

Next: Diagnosis & Tests for Breast Cancer


1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012.