Symptom Checker: When to Call the Doctor with Breast Cancer Concerns

Posted: 10/2/2019 8:00 AM by Interim HealthCare

Every October individuals and organizations across the globe join together to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, with one woman receiving a breast cancer diagnosis every 2 minutes in the United States.


When caught early, breast cancer is highly treatable. Nearly two-thirds of breast cancers are diagnosed in the localized stage, for which the 5-year survival rate for patients is 99%. But knowing when to call a doctor can be challenging. Particularly in seniors, stubbornness or an aversion to alerting the doctor for “every little thing” could hold off a diagnosis -- and critical treatment -- unnecessarily. 


As part of our “Symptom Checker” series, and in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s examine some common symptoms of breast cancer. If you notice any of these or any other symptoms, please be sure to contact your doctor. Any doctor would much rather tell you “it’s nothing” than have you avoid coming in and discover it’s something serious. 

Some of the more common breast cancer symptoms

While this is not an exhaustive list (and some breast cancers have no symptoms at all), here are some of the more common symptoms that merit calling your doctor to rule out breast cancer:

Any new or changing lump

It’s extremely important to contact your doctor any time you notice a new or changing in lump in one or both breasts. This can also include swollen lymph nodes near or around your breast. Lumps may be small or large, hard or soft -- any type of lump should be checked out by a doctor. 

Unusual swelling in the breast (even without a lump)

While a lump is the symptom most often associated with breast cancer, unusual swelling in your breast (even without any noticeable lump) should also be reviewed and monitored by a doctor. The swelling may feel as if it encompasses your entire breast, or just part of the breast. 

Breast or nipple pain

While breast pain is a common symptom for many issues women face, it can also sometimes be a sign of breast cancer. Tenderness, aching or sharp pains that are persistent are worth mentioning to your ob/gyn. The pain may be across your breast, along part of the breast, or may only encompass the nipple. But, any type of pain should be examined. 

Changes to the skin of the breasts or nipples

Skin irritation, rashes or dimpling may indicate certain types of breast cancers. Skin changes can also include thickening of the skin, scaliness and redness. Nipple inversion, turning or other physical changes, as well as unusual discharge, should be reviewed by a doctor

Don’t miss your checkups and mammograms

Although the American Cancer Society no longer recommends monthly self exams for individuals who are at average risk of breast cancer, talk to your doctor or your loved one’s doctor to determine your specific recommendations.The ACS also recommends annual mammograms for women at an average risk of breast cancer beginning at age 45, moving to every two years at age 55. 

Talk to your doctor about your family history and other risk factors so that you can learn the best course of action for screenings. For more breast cancer resources, visit the American Cancer Society website.