As of 2021, breast cancer has become the most common cancer, affecting at least 13 percent of women in the U.S. alone.1 Breast cancer awareness programs over the years have left no stone unturned in educating women and men about its common signs.
However, not all breast cancers start with a lump. Also, a mammogram may not detect some breast tumors. It’s because there are some uncommon signs of breast cancer that may go completely unnoticed. Familiarizing yourself with these not-so-popular signs can help you stay safe.
Note that you don’t need to wait for obvious signs to show up first. Any change in your breast that occurs suddenly or develops gradually should not be ignored.
Changes in Breast Size
While it’s common for breast size to change during pregnancy, lactation, and some phases of menstruation, any change that affects only one side can be a warning sign. There are instances when one breast may appear abnormally enlarged and heavy. On the other hand, a lesser common sign can be a decrease in breast size.2
The key is to look out for any asymmetrical change in breast size.
Red Spots or Blotches
Yes, most rashes are harmless and go away on their own. What shouldn’t be ignored are red, purple, or bluish spots or blotches that appear throughout the breast. In the rarest cases, these spots can cover the entire breast.
So, pay attention to any unusual rash or spots that don’t clear up within a few days or weeks.3
Dimpled skin is one major red flag of inflammatory breast cancer, a rare subtype of breast cancer. It appears as pitted or uneven skin. Sometimes, the dimpled skin looks red and inflamed.4
Again, it’s normal to have itchy breasts due to a bunch of reasons, such as:
- Lace bras;
- Yeast infection;
- Eczema, or;
However, some rare types of breast cancer will also present itchy rashes. They may appear suddenly and look similar to eczema.
Regardless of how they look and feel, if you experience itchy breasts or nipples that don’t go away on their own within one to two weeks, you should pay a visit to your health care provider.6
Unless your nipple shape is inverted naturally, nipple retraction should never be ignored. Certain breast cancer types — like invasive ductal carcinoma, ductal carcinoma in situ, and Paget’s disease of the nipple — can cause nipple inversion.
If you notice sudden changes in your nipple shape and form, consult with your doctor right away.7
Warmer Than Usual Skin
Mastitis is a kind of breast infection common in nursing women, but it may also occur in women who are not breastfeeding and men. It makes the breast warm, swollen, and painful. However, inflammatory breast cancer is a rare type of breast cancer that makes breast skin warmer than usual, red, swollen, and inflamed.
Regardless of the cause, get yourself examined right away if you notice any such change.8
Fluid leakage is very common in pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, if women who aren’t pregnant or lactating have leaky breasts, that’s a huge red flag. That is because many early stages of breast cancer may present with fluid leakage from nipples.9
Again, bloody discharge can occur due to several reasons. But if you’re experiencing bloody discharge every once in a while, it’s best you get your breasts examined by a doctor.10
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes are particular types of cells that filter your body fluids and kill disease-causing microorganisms lingering inside your body. It’s normal to have swollen lymph nodes in infection.
However, swollen lymph nodes, especially around the armpit and collar bone, also fall under uncommon signs of breast cancer. So, if you have swollen lymph nodes, get your breasts assessed right away.11
Like your breasts, your armpits carry some breast tissues. As such, breast cancer can also affect tissues in and around your armpit.
A sore armpit is yet another uncommon sign of breast cancer that shouldn’t be ignored. Unless you’ve been working out or doing push-ups, sudden soreness or inflammation in armpits that doesn’t go away is a major red flag and warrants medical intervention.12
Newly Visible Veins
It’s okay to be veiny unless your breasts suddenly show visible veins you’ve never seen before. Pay close attention to the appearance of any blue or green lines on your breasts as they can be early signs of breast cancer.13
Strange Tickling Sensation
It’s normal for moms-to-be and lactating moms to feel a strange tickling sensation. But if babies aren’t in your picture and you feel weird tickling you’ve never experienced before, play it safe and get yourself examined as it is a rare sign of breast cancer.14
You know your breasts more than anyone else. From your breast skin to nipple development, you know how they look and feel.
While it’s okay to experience some changes during a few days of menstruation, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, what’s not all right are the unusual and unexplained signs you’ve never seen before. If you experience one or more of these uncommon signs of breast cancer, stay safe and get yourself examined as soon as you can.