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Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

Breast cancer can cause a number of signs and symptoms. See your GP if you notice a change to your breast that’s new or unusual for you.

1. What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include: 

  1. A lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit
  2. A change to the skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  3. A change in the colour of the breast – the breast may look red or inflamed
  4. A nipple change, for example it has become pulled in (inverted)
  5. Rash or crusting around the nipple
  6. Unusual liquid (discharge) from either nipple
  7. Changes in size or shape of the breast

On its own, pain in your breasts is not usually a sign of breast cancer. But look out for pain in your breast or armpit that’s there all or almost all the time.

Although rare, men can get breast cancer. The most common symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump in the chest area.

2. See your GP if you notice a change

Most breast changes, including breast lumps, are not cancer.

But the sooner breast cancer is found, the more successful treatment is likely to be.  

Get any new or unusual changes checked by a GP. 

3. How to check your breasts

There’s no special way to check your breasts and you do not need any training. 

Checking your breasts is as easy as TLC:

  1. Touch your breasts: can you feel anything new or unusual?
  2. Look for changes: does anything look different to you?
  3. Check any new or unusual changes with a GP

Everyone will have their own way of touching and looking for changes. 

Get used to checking regularly and be aware of anything that’s new or different for you.

Check your whole breast area, including up to your collarbone (upper chest) and armpits.

4. Changes to look and feel for

Illustration of a lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit.
A lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit.
A lump or swelling in the breast, upper chest or armpit.
Illustration showing a change to the skin with puckering or dimpling.
A change to the skin, including puckering or dimpling.
A change to the skin, including puckering or dimpling.
Illustration showing the breast looking red or inflamed
A change in the colour of the breast – the breast may look red or inflamed
A change in the colour of the breast – the breast may look red or inflamed
Illustration showing a pulled in and inverted nipple
A nipple change, for example it has become pulled in (inverted).
A nipple change, for example it has become pulled in (inverted).
Illustration showing a rash or crusting around the nipple.
Rash or crusting around the nipple.
Rash or crusting around the nipple.
A drawing showing a droplet from one breast to illustrate unusual discharge
Unusual liquid, also called discharge, from either nipple.
Unusual liquid, also called discharge, from either nipple.
A drawing with a dotted line to illustrate a change in the size or shape of the breast.
Changes in size or shape of the breast.
Changes in size or shape of the breast.

5. What will happen when I see my GP?

Your appointment may be over the phone. If your appointment is in person, your GP will examine your breasts.

After speaking to you on the phone, or examining your breasts, your GP may:

  • Decide there’s no need for further investigation
  • Ask to see you again after a short time 
  • Refer you to a breast clinic

Being referred to a breast clinic does not mean you have breast cancer, just that further assessment is needed to find out what's going on. 

If your GP is male and you do not feel comfortable going to see him, ask if there’s a female doctor or practice nurse available. 

You can also ask for a female nurse or member of staff to be present during your examination, or you can take a friend or relative with you, but check first if you are able to do this.

If you're worried about breast health or breast cancer, you can speak to our breast care nurses for free or by email - please see below.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in July 2021. The next planned review begins in July 2023.

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