PATIENT ALERT: Our scheduling system is currently down. There will be a delay in returning messages about appointment scheduling. Masks are now optional in our VOA offices. If you are immunocompromised or feeling ill, masking is strongly encouraged. Thank you. CLICK HERE for more details​​​​​​.

Breast Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

woman reading signs and symptoms of breast cancerFor American women, breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer after skin cancer. On average, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. It’s very important to know what to look for so that you can be the first line of breast cancer detection!

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass. It is usually hard, painless, and has uneven edges. Some lumps, however, can be soft and rounded. If you find one we recommend you contact your physician — a primary care doctor or a gynecologist — to have the lump evaluated. There’s a chance that it’s not cancerous. Finding out as quickly as possible can ease your mind. And if it’s cancer, can get you on the path to recovery.

There are other warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer which are easily detectable – if you know what to look for. If you notice one or more of these or anything out of the ordinary, you should schedule an appointment as soon as possible with your doctor.

Other common signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Warm, red, irritated and/or itchy breasts. These are among the most common early warning signs of inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Nipple discharge. Except for breast milk that may leak from breasts during or after pregnancy, any nipple discharge should be checked by a doctor. Clear or bloody discharge may indicate cancer.
  • Flat or inverted nipple. If this is unusual for you, have it evaluated by a doctor.
  • Scaliness. Healthy breast skin is smooth. If yours is scaly or inflamed, that's a red flag.
  • Changes in skin texture. If you develop a rash, puckering or dimpling on the breast, that could be a sign of breast cancer. Skin changes related to breast cancer may resemble the rough skin of an orange peel.
  • Change in breast size or shape. While it's not uncommon for someone to have one breast that's larger than the other, any new change in breast size or shape -- especially in just one breast -- could indicate cancer.
  • Lump or swelling around breast, collarbone, or armpit. Swelling or lumps in the areas surrounding your breasts can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes. This may be seen before you can feel a lump in your breast.

What's Normal?

Knowing the breast cancer red flags to watch for is important, but so is knowing about breast changes that may be completely normal. Throughout a woman's menstrual cycle, periodic breast pain, tenderness, and heaviness are common. If you experience these feelings in both breasts and are menstruating or about to begin your cycle, these symptoms are most likely the result of normal, monthly hormonal changes in your body.

When to Get Checked for Breast Cancer

If you're experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, or if you're having pain at times other than the start of your menstrual cycle, it would be a good idea to talk to your doctor about getting a mammogram. Schedule an appointment with your gynecologist, who will typically examine you and refer you for a mammogram. The American Cancer Society advises women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening. Learn more about what to expect at a mammogram appointment. 

a guide to breast cancer screenings provided by virginia oncology associates


Mammograms effectively detect 84% of breast cancers, so when you're given a clean bill of health, you can set your mind at ease. If your mammogram detects a suspicious mass, you can be evaluated further. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you can expect a better outcome because the earlier cancer treatment begins, the better the patient outcomes usually are. If you live in Virginia or North Carolina and want to be examined by a breast cancer specialist, the oncologists at Virginia Oncology Associates are here to help. We have locations throughout the state of Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina.