Signs of breast cancer

What can be typical signs of breast cancer?

Regular palpation of the breasts can provide early evidence of a malignant tumor. Nodular changes in the breast tissue can be the first signs of breast cancer or they can have harmless causes (e.g. cysts in the breast). Women who notice abnormalities should definitely see a doctor, because the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chances of survival.

Typical signs of breast cancer can be:

  • Asymmetry or altered shape of a breast

  • Bulging or puckering of the skin on the chest

  • Redness or flaking of the skin

  • Retraction of a nipple

  • Palpable lumps in the chest

  • Hardening of the breast tissue

  • Palpable lymph nodes near the chest (in the armpits and above or below the collarbone)

  • Stinging or burning pain in the chest

  • Poor mobility of the mammary gland on the pectoral muscle

  • Watery or bloody discharge from a nipple

  • Back pain

  • Rapid weight loss

Symptoms / signs

In the case of breast cancer, the earliest possible diagnosis is crucial for the further course.

In the early stages of breast cancer, there are usually no symptoms such as pain or the like. Even at an advanced stage, there are often no symptoms. It is important, however, if there are signs that they should be clarified, because the earlier the cancer is detected, the better the chances of recovery.

Of course there are other diseases besides cancer, conditions that can cause the following symptoms. For example, hormonal changes can lead to increased breast sensitivity. The probability that it is ultimately a malignant growth is significantly lower than a benign change. Especially in young women, 80% of the cases are benign.

Most of the time, palpable lumps in the breast indicate cancer, with about half of the cases in the upper outer area of ​​the breast. Lumps are palpable from a size of one to two centimeters. However, the lumps can also be glandular tissue or dense connective tissue of the breast, for example. If the knot is not painful and cannot be moved, but is baked with the environment, speaks for a malicious event.
Please also read our article on this Swelling of the chest.

Any changes in the nipple area are also suspect. These changes can manifest themselves in the form of retraction of the nipple, inflammation, increased sensitivity to touch, or secretions. The secretion can be watery or bloody. Especially if these symptoms appear one-sided, it can be a malignant disease.

Read more on the topic: How do you recognize breast cancer?

In addition to the abnormalities of the nipple, changes in the breast skin can also be a sign. For example redness, flaking, orange peel as well as retractions or inflammations. Of course, these skin changes can also be caused by other causes. A change in breast size and shape can also indicate cancer. Women often have different sizes of breasts, which is not yet a cause for concern. Only if the size difference has reappeared should this be clarified. If you notice that the breasts move differently when the arms are raised, this can also be an indication of carcinoma. In the course of the disease, the tumor can also lead to pain or a drawing or burning sensation in the chest.

An important indication is a swelling in the armpit area. This speaks for swollen lymph nodes in the armpit. If breast cancer is actually present, the swelling is caused by metastasis / spread of the tumor into the lymph nodes in the armpit. Because the lymph nodes in the armpit represent the first station of lymphatic drainage in a breast tumor and thus the first station of lymphogenic metastasis. Swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpit can also be a normal reaction to an infection that is taking place. Bone pain, difficult breathing as well as night sweats, fever and unwanted weight loss also speak for an advanced stage in which metastases have developed. These symptoms can also be caused by other circumstances.

Please also read our page Symptoms of breast cancer.

Signs in men

Malignant breast tumors can also develop in men. However, this occurs very rarely. About one percent of all breast cancer patients are men. Since it is not one of the typical tumor diseases in men, and the population is usually not aware that breast cancer can also occur in men, it is usually discovered late. The diagnosis is usually around the age of 70, which is significantly later than for women. Treatment for men is largely the same as for women.

The signs of breast cancer in men are basically exactly the same as in women. The disease is usually discovered through a palpable lump. In men, too, the symptoms often hide harmless causes. A lump in the breast can also be a harmless swelling of the breast gland (Gynecomastia) act. In the case of cancer, secretions from the nipple can also occur, as well as inflammation or retraction of the nipple or the breast skin in general. Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit should also be observed. As with women, ultrasound and mammography are used to make a diagnosis. However, more unambiguous statements can be made in women through the examinations, because in men the breast tissue is denser and therefore less visible through the examination. Therefore, in most cases, a diagnosis in men is not made until a biopsy has been taken.

Read also: How do you recognize breast cancer in men? or breast cancer in men

Can a stitch in the chest be a sign of breast cancer?

Breast cancer usually does not cause pain in the early stages and is therefore often discovered late. In many cases, chest stinging or tenderness has harmless causes, e.g. cyclic breast changes or cysts. Due to the influence of hormones, the breast becomes larger and more sensitive to pain before menstruation, which leads to an uncomfortable feeling of tension and pulling in the breasts. The symptoms go away after a few days. Many women have breast cysts. These are benign cavities that can fill with secretions. Bulging cysts can displace the surrounding glandular tissue and cause pain. If the pain is severe, a puncture, during which the fluid is sucked out of the cyst, can help. However, most cysts will refill after a while.

Sharp pain can also indicate a breast infection (mastitis) be. Mastitis is caused by a bacterial infection and mainly affects nursing mothers. Mastitis is rare outside of breastfeeding and can be a sign of breast cancer.

At an advanced stage, breast cancer can develop lung metastases that cause severe sharp pain in the breasts. Often the patients then also show additional symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough or bloody sputum.

Breast lump

A palpable lump in the breast that cannot be moved can be an indication of breast cancer. However, a lump in breast tissue can also be benign and does not necessarily have to be a tumor. Cysts are small fluid-filled bubbles in the breast tissue, which, depending on the cycle, can be more or less full and often cause pain due to pressure on the surrounding tissue. Cysts can be felt as nodular structures in the chest, but they are completely harmless. Many women, especially young women, have fine nodules in their breast tissue. These knots are caused by an increase in the connective tissue and are harmless; one speaks of mastopathy.Other harmless causes of a breast lump can be fatty lumps (Lipomas) or benign fibroadenomas (new growths in the mammary gland). If a woman notices lumpy changes in her breast, it is imperative to see a doctor who can then determine whether the lump is harmless or whether it is breast cancer.

Read more on the subject at: Breast lump


Pain is not a typical sign for breast cancer. Especially not in the early stages of the disease. For example, the knots that form are in the case of a Malignant tumor disease characteristically palpable. Only in the further course of the disease can pain develop, which can manifest itself as aching or burning sensation. At an advanced stage, metastases can cause pain. For example, if the tumor spreads into the bones, this leads to bone pain. Common place for metastasis in the bones represents the spine.

Pain in the arm

Breast cancer can cause arm and armpit pain. There are many lymph channels in the chest, from which the lymph is transported to the lymph nodes in the armpit. Lymph nodes are control stations of the immune system in which the lymph is filtered. In the case of a tumor, the lymph nodes in the armpits swell palpably and the enlarged lymph nodes can cause pain that radiates into the arm.

Back pain

In rare cases, chronic back pain can be caused by breast cancer. In the early stages of breast cancer, there may be pain between the shoulder blades in the upper back area. Even with a very advanced tumor disease, when the tumor cells are already spreading throughout the body (metastasize) an involvement of the spine can cause back pain.

Changes in the skin

Pimples on the chest

Pimples and redness on the breasts can be signs of breast cancer. These can be skin metastases that develop in the more advanced stage of the cancer, when the tumor is already spreading throughout the body. These skin metastases first show up as small pimples, which then grow into small palpable nodules and can look like ulcers. These pimples occur mainly in the chest area and neck region. As a precaution, women who notice pimples or skin changes on the breasts should see a doctor and have them checked for breast cancer.

Skin retractions

The appearance of the breast can provide important clues as to whether a tumor is present. The formation of pits, dents, and furrows in the skin or the appearance of enlarged pores (called "orange peel") are signs of breast cancer. As the tumor grows in the breast, the skin can pull inwards, which is often also evident on the nipple, which can then invade.

Redness / flaking of the skin

Changes in the skin, such as reddening or flaking, can be signs of breast cancer. In particular, reddening of the skin that persists for a long time and does not go away can be caused by an inflammatory carcinoma. The chest is warm, red and swollen from the inflammation. This form of breast cancer is rather rare, but very dangerous, as the cancer cells, starting from the tumor in the breast, spread rapidly throughout the body along lymph vessels (metastases) and attack healthy tissue. This phenomenon is also called lymphangiosis carcinomatosa.

Hardening of the breast tissue

Another indication of breast cancer is new hardening or bulging in the breast. The palpable changes are often located in the upper outer quadrant of the breast and are caused by the rapid growth of the tumor in the mammary gland. In breast cancer, the skin cannot move above the hardening, but has grown firmly. Firm, lumpy or immovable hardening must always be examined by a doctor so that breast cancer can be diagnosed or ruled out quickly.


Symptoms such as tiredness and reduced performance usually only appear when the breast cancer is more advanced. In this context one speaks of a chronic fatigue syndrome, the so-called fatigue.

Read more on the subject at: Chronic fatigue


To recognize signs of cancer as early as possible, should every woman from 30 years of age palpates her breast herself about once a month. In around 80% of cases, women practically discovered their breast disease themselves and went to the gynecologist because of abnormalities. In addition to the chest, the gynecologist also palpates the armpits during the examination so as not to overlook swollen lymph nodes. If there are questionable tactile findings, a Mammography (X-ray examination) downstream, through which limescale deposits or the like can be displayed.

For an independent breast examination you should first have your own Breast skin, Nipples and inspect the shape of the breast for abnormalities. Before actually palpating the breast, the Arm slowly raised over head and lowered again become. One should observe whether the Move breasts on the same side. This should be followed by an examination of the nipple. That's what the Nipple lightly pressed between thumb and forefinger. One should pay attention to whether there is pain or a leakage of fluid from the nipple. The next step is actually palpating the breast. The left breast should be examined with the right hand and vice versa. During the examination, one hand forms an abutment by placing one hand under the chest and lifting it up slightly. The other hand will with the fingertips of the middle three fingers the chest gradually palpated. It is best to stick to a fixed scheme when scanning so as not to forget anything. For example, always from the inside to the outside and from top to bottom. The movements that you should make circular take place and the Meanwhile pressure varies from medium to high so that one can feel multiple layers of breast tissue. In addition, you can feel the breasts while lying down, as this allows the lower areas of the breast to be reached more easily. There are different tissues in our breasts, which also feel different. fat- and connective tissue pose soft dar while Milk glands and milk ducts are more solid are. Especially the area of Chest crease can sometimes feel knotty and rough.

Read more about the here Self-examination for breast cancer.


In the mammography, a special X-ray examination of the breasts, mainly so-called Micro-lime stoves, which can be seen as soft spots on the X-ray, indicate a malignant event. This microcalcification can be an expression for a remodeling of the tissue or a scarring process of the tissue or else for a growing tumor. In order to actually assess the malevolence, one has to Breast biopsy will be performed.

Read more about this on our website Mammography.