Breast cancer occurs when cancer cells grow from breast tissue. Sometimes there are no symptoms of breast cancer, especially in its early stages. The earlier breast cancer is found, the easier it usually is to treat. This is why early detection is so important.

Lump in the breast

Feeling a lump in the breast is one of the first symptoms of breast cancer. The lump may or may not be painful. 

Breast Cancer Symptoms and stages

Changes in the skin of the breast

Some women notice a change in their breast skin and these symptoms may be mistaken for an infection. 

  • irritation
  • redness
  • any thickening of the skin
  • discoloration of the skin
  • dimpling of the skin
  • a texture similar to that of an orange

Changes in the nipple

Your nipple may also show symptoms of breast cancer which included sudden inversion of the nipples, pain, or abnormal discharge.

Underarm lump

Breast tissue extends under the arms, and cancer can spread through the lymph nodes under the arms. 

Symptoms of liver metastases include:

  • jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • skin rash or itch
  • loss of appetite or weight loss
  • nausea or fever
  • anemia
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • bloating
  • swelling of the legs (edema)

Specific breast cancer stage to learn more:

  • Stage 0
  • Stage I
  • Stage II
  • Stage III
  • Stage IV

Stage 0

Stage 0 is used to describe non-invasive breast cancers, such as DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). In stage 0, there is no evidence of cancer cells or non-cancerous abnormal cells.

Stage I

Stage I describes invasive breast cancer (cancer cells are breaking through to or invading normal surrounding breast tissue) Stage I is divided into subcategories known as IA and IB.

Stage IA describes invasive breast cancer in which:

  • the tumor measures up to 2 centimeters (cm) and
  • the cancer has not spread outside the breast; no lymph nodes are involved

Stage IB describes invasive breast cancer in which:

  • there is no tumor in the breast; instead, small groups of cancer cells — larger than 0.2 millimeter (mm) but not larger than 2 mm — are found in the lymph nodes or
  • there is a tumor in the breast that is no larger than 2 cm, and there are small groups of cancer cells — larger than 0.2 mm but not larger than 2 mm — in the lymph nodes

Stage II

Stage II is divided into subcategories known as IIA and IIB.

In general, stage IIA describes invasive breast cancer in which:

  • no tumor can be found in the breast, but cancer (larger than 2 millimeters [mm]) is found in 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes (the lymph nodes under the arm) or in the lymph nodes near the breast bone (found during a sentinel node biopsy) or
  • the tumor measures 2 centimeters (cm) or smaller and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes or
  • the tumor is larger than 2 cm but not larger than 5 cm and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes

Stage III

Stage III is divided into subcategories known as IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.

stage IIIA describes invasive breast cancer in which either:

  • no tumor is found in the breast or the tumor may be any size; cancer is found in 4 to 9 axillary lymph nodes or in the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during imaging tests or a physical exam) or
  • the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters (cm); small groups of breast cancer cells (larger than 0.2 millimeter [mm] but not larger than 2 mm) are found in the lymph nodes or
  • the tumor is larger than 5 cm; cancer has spread to 1 to 3 axillary lymph nodes or to the lymph nodes near the breastbone (found during a sentinel lymph node biopsy)

Stage IV

Stage IV describes invasive breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs of the body, such as the lungs, distant lymph nodes, skin, bones, liver, or brain.

It’s best to call your doctor and schedule an appointment so they can order the appropriate tests.

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