Signs and Symptoms

Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer may help save your life. When the disease is discovered early, there are more treatment options and a better chance for a cure.

Most painful breast lumps are not cancerous. Any discrete breast lump whether painful or not should be evaluated because breast cancer often presents as a lump or thickening.

Other potential signs of breast cancer include:

  • A spontaneous clear or bloody discharge from the nipple
  • New retraction or indentation of the nipple
  • A change in the size or contour of the breast
  • Any flattening or indentation of the skin over the breast
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over the breast, like the skin of an orange
  • Crustiness, ulceration or rash of the nipple or areola

A number of conditions other than breast cancer can cause breasts to change in size or feel. Breast tissue changes naturally during pregnancy and a woman’s menstrual cycle. Other possible causes of non-cancerous (benign) breast changes include fibrocystic changes, cysts, fibroadenomas, infection or injury.

If you find a lump or other change in your breast — even if a recent mammogram was normal — you should call us immediately. If you haven’t yet gone through menopause, you may want to wait through one menstrual cycle before seeing your doctor. If the change hasn't gone away after a month, have it evaluated.

Signs and Symptoms – Male Breast Cancer

Many people don’t realize that breast cancer is a disease that can also strike men. While it is definitely rare in men, it can happen.

Until the age of 13 or 14, both girls and boys have a small amount of breast tissue. This usually consists of several ducts located under the nipple. At puberty, a girl's ovaries make female hormones, causing, among other things, her breasts to grow. Boys’ testes start to make the hormones that keep breast tissue from growing.

Like all cells of the body, a man's breast cells can undergo cancerous changes. Still breast cancer is less common in men because their breast duct cells are less developed than those of women and because they normally have lower levels of female hormones that affect the growth of breast cells.

Men can have benign or malignant types of breast cancer. The most common symptom of male breast cancer is a palpable lump.

Benign breast conditions

There are many types of benign breast tumors (abnormal growth of cells), such as papillomas and fibroadenomas. Benign tumors do not spread outside the breast and are not life threatening. Benign breast tumors are common in women (less so after menopause) but do not usually occur in men.

Gynecomastia

Gynecomastia is the most common male breast disorder. It’s not a tumor but rather an increase in the amount of breast tissue. Usually, men have too little breast tissue to be felt or noticed. Gynecomastia can appear as a tender, button-like or disk-like growth under the nipple and areola (the dark circle around the nipple), which can be felt and sometimes seen. Some men have more severe gynecomastia and they may appear to have small breasts. Although gynecomastia is much more common than breast cancer in men, both can be felt as a growth under the nipple, so it’s important to have any lumps checked by your doctor.

Gynecomastia is common among teenage boys and older men because the balance of hormones in the body changes during adolescence and then again at senescence.

In rare cases, gynecomastia occurs because tumors or diseases of certain endocrine (hormone-producing) glands cause a man's body to make more estrogen (the main female hormone) than usual.

  • Diseases of the liver, which is an important organ in male and female hormone metabolism, can change a man's hormone balance and lead to gynecomastia.
  • Obesity can also cause higher levels of estrogens in men.
  • Medicines to treat ulcers, heart burn, high blood pressure and heart failure can also cause gynecomastia.
  • Alcohol, steroids and marijuana use can also lead to growth of breast tissue.
  • Klinefelter syndrome, a rare genetic condition, can lead to gynecomastia as well as increase a man's risk of developing breast cancer.