6 Uncommon Signs of Breast Cancer

It's easy to overlook many of these indications of disease

Regular breast self-examinations can detect lumps, and mammograms can detect changes in breast tissue. These are the most effective ways to catch the disease early. But breast cancer doesn't have to start as a lump, and mammograms cannot detect all breast tumors.

Any changes in your breast can be caused by cancer, and there are a number of uncommon, yet important, signs of breast cancer that are worth knowing. It is best to familiarize yourself with these uncommon signs of breast cancer because it's easy to chalk them up to another cause or even ignore them altogether.

Changes in your breasts can occur suddenly or gradually. The key for you to remember is that you shouldn't wait things out. Call or see your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.

While these breast changes may be due to another concern, early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to maximize your chances of a good outcome if breast cancer is present.

uncommon signs of breast cancer
 Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Changes in Breast Size

Breast size can change for any number of reasons, including pregnancy and the phases of menstruation. However, if the change is asymmetrical (affecting one side rather than both), that should raise a red flag.

Sometimes, the enlarged breast can feel harder or noticeably heavier than the other. An even less common symptom is a decrease in breast size on one side. You should not ignore either of these changes.

If a change in breast size is sudden and asymmetrical, have it checked out as soon as possible, and take note of any other symptoms you may have.

Unusually Warm Skin

While cancer isn't usually associated with fevers or symptomatic inflammation, a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), can cause breast warmth, redness, swelling, itching, and discomfort.

Lymph nodes under the arm (on the same side as the affected breast) can become swollen, red, and painful. IBC can even cause a fever. IBC is different from most types of breast cancer in that it usually does not cause a lump and may not cause changes that are detectable on a mammogram.

IBC symptoms are similar to those of mastitis, a type of breast infection. Whether you have an infection or cancer, prompt treatment is essential to optimize your recovery and prevent complications.

Inverted Nipples

Nipple retraction (also known as nipple inversion or invaginated nipple) is the term used to describe a nipple that has turned inward or has become flattened. While the condition may be congenital (the way your breasts normally developed), a change in your nipple shape is more concerning and may be a sign of breast cancer.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), IBC, and Paget's disease of the nipple are some of the breast cancer types that can involve the nipple and areola.

Nipple retraction is concerning if it is sudden and unexplained. Other symptoms may include nipple pain, non-milk discharge, and thickening of the nipple tissue.

Itchy Breasts

While an itch every now and then is normal and can be caused by the material in your bra, among other things, persistent breast itchiness is a cause for concern. It may be an early sign of IBC, Paget's disease of the nipple, or another type of breast cancer.

Itchiness, tingling, or other paresthesias can occur as cancer begins to cause the breakdown of fat cells in the breasts. This can cause localized nerve endings to fire abnormally, manifesting with symptoms of itchiness.

Dimpled Skin

As breast cancer progresses, breast tissue decreases, which may cause changes to the texture of the breast. This occurs nearer to the surface of the skin, creating a dimpled, orange-peel-like texture, often with scaling.

It is somewhat similar in appearance to an allergic skin reaction, where the inflammation can cause the pores to look larger and more open. The skin may also feel thicker and warm to the touch.

Red Spots or Blotches

There are many different causes of a rash, most of which are relatively harmless. When it occurs on the breast and doesn't clear up after a few days to a week, it may be a good idea to have it checked out.

With IBC, a rash is fairly common and may appear as a series of small red or purple spots, not unlike that of an insect bite. In other cases, the discoloration may be more spread out or similar to the appearance of a bruise. Rarely, the entire breast may appear red or pinkish.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the survival rate for breast cancer?

    The five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer is 99% for localized cancer that has not spread outside of the breast. Breast cancer that has spread to local areas near the original spot has an 86% survival rate. If the cancer spreads to distant areas of the body, the survival rate is 28%.

  • How is breast cancer diagnosed?

    Breast cancer is diagnosed with some combination of a physical examination, mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy. If these tests show that cancer is present, further tests will be used to determine the type and stage, such as a hormone receptor test and HER2/neu test.

  • Who is most at risk for breast cancer?

    Risk factors for breast cancer include:

    • Age, as most breast cancer is diagnosed in women over 50
    • Genetic mutations, such as the BRCA gene
    • Starting menstruation before age 12 or experiencing menopause after age 55
    • Having dense breasts, which makes mammograms more difficult
    • A family history of ovarian or breast cancer
    • Previous radiation therapy
    • Having ever taken diethylstilbestrol
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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Cancer Society. Inflammatory breast cancer.

  3. American Cancer Society. Types of breast cancer.

  4. Vallely JJ, Hudson KE, Locke SC, et al. Pruritus in patients with solid tumors: an overlooked supportive care need. Support Care Cancer. 2019;27(10):3897-3904. doI:10.1007/s00520-019-04693-5

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How is breast cancer diagnosed?