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What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

By Dr. Maria Palafox

Will my body give me “signs” that I may have breast cancer?

Although I wish I could tell you that your body will give you a sign or show symptoms of breast cancer in its early stages, that is far from the truth. When your breast tumor is small (and most easily treated), there are typically no signs at all. This is why (a) knowing whether or not you have a hereditary risk of breast cancer, and (b) following recommended screening guidelines are absolutely essential.

What is the most noticeable “first” sign of a breast tumor?

Generally, the most noticeable “first” physical sign of breast cancer is your ability to feel a small, painless lump in your breast. If you remember from a few posts ago, the definition of “cancer” is essentially the uncontrolled duplication of cells. Cells in their own right don’t actually hurt; we have millions of cells in our body and we don’t feel them at all. It isn’t typically until the mass of cancerous cells begins to intrude or attack other systems in our body that we feel actual pain from cancer. So what does this tell us? Outside of (a) genetic testing for hereditary cancers when indicated, and (b) getting regular mammograms, we should also always remember to (c) perform breast self-exams each and every month. It’s easy to do and can save your life.

What other breast cancer signs and symptoms could I experience?

Although not as common, sometimes breast cancer can spread to your lymph nodes early, even before the actual tumor can be felt. When this happens, you might experience a lump or swelling in your underarms.

Any persistent change or pain in your breasts should be checked out by a doctor. Most breast pain is not related to cancer, but should still be examined and treated when appropriate. Other less common symptoms associated with breast cancer include swelling, thickness, or redness of your breast; or nipple changes such as erosion, retraction, or discharge (especially if the nipple discharge has blood in it).

Dr. Maria Palafox is a breast cancer surgeon in South Texas, with offices located in San Antonio, TX, and Pleasanton, TX. Her office can be reached at or (210) 504-5053.

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