Symptoms of Breast Cancer, Recurrence and Outlook

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 26 March 2021

Breast cancer comes in a variety of forms. Many of them have symptoms in common, and there are few with unique symptoms of their own.

 

Symptoms of ductal carcinoma

Breast cancer of this form is the most prevalent. It all starts in your ducts. DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) accounts for around 1 of every 5 current cases of breast cancer (DCIS). This indicates that there is cancer in the cells that line your ducts, but it hasn’t spread to surrounding tissue.

It’s possible that you won’t notice the signs of ductal carcinoma. It can also result in a lump in the breast or a bloody discharge from your nipple.

 

Symptoms of lobular carcinoma

This form starts in the lobules, which are milk-producing glands. Breast cancer of this kind is the second most common. Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • A sensation of fullness, swelling or thickening in one area of the breast
  • Changes in nipples: inverted nipples pointing inwards or flattened

 

Symptoms of invasive breast cancer

Invasive or infiltrating breast cancer refers to cancer that has spread outside the site of origin into the surrounding tissues. You may have noticed the following:

  • Lump in the breast or armpit. It may be fixed and difficult to move and does not separate from under the skin.
  • Asymmetrical breast, a significant change from one breast to the other.
  • New skin changes on breast: red, rash, dimpling, sometimes resembles the skin of an orange
  • Skin sores
  • Breast swelling
  • Lymph nodes that are small and feel hard, sometimes sticking together or sticking to your skin
  • Pain

 

Symptoms of metastatic breast cancer

Breast cancer will spread to other areas of the body, including other organs if you don’t get treatment. Metastatic, advanced, or secondary breast cancer are terms used to describe this form of cancer. Based on where it has spread, you can experience:

  • Headache
  • Visual changes like double vision, partial blindness
  • Bone pain
  • Altered mood and behaviour
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Balance impairments

 

Symptoms of triple-negative breast cancer

If breast cancer lacks oestrogen and progesterone receptors and produces less of a protein named HER2, it is referred to as triple-negative. This type grows and spreads more quickly than most, so doctors treat it differently.

Triple-negative tumours account for 10% to 15% of all breast cancers. They have the same symptoms as other types of cancer.

 

Symptoms of male breast cancer

Men account for around 1% of all breast cancer cases. Since it’s so unusual, you may not feel the symptoms until the cancer has spread. Keep an eye out for:

  • Lumps: in your breast or underarm
  • Skin changes: redness, dimpling, crusting, itchy, rashes around the breast or nipples
  • Nipple skin changes: inverting or flattening of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge: yellow or bloody discharge

 

Symptoms of Paget’s disease of the breast

This form often occurs in combination with ductal carcinoma. The tissue of your nipple and areola is affected. Symptoms can resemble eczema including:

  • Skin changes: redness, dimpling, crusting, itchy, rashes around the breast or nipples
  • Nipple skin changes: inverting or flattening of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge: yellow or bloody discharge
  • Burning or itching

 

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)

Inflammatory breast cancer is an unusual form of breast cancer that has signs that are close to those of an infection. They are as follows:

  • Warm, tender, swollen, red, painful breast
  • Skin changes: redness, dimpling, crusting, itchy, rashes around the breast or nipples
  • Nipple skin changes: inverting or flattening of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge: yellow or bloody discharge

 

Symptoms of papillary carcinoma

This form of ductal cancer is exceedingly rare. It derives its name from the small lumps on the tumour called papules. Symptoms that are common include:

  • Small hard cyst
  • Nipple discharge: bloody discharge

 

Symptoms of angiosarcoma

Angiosarcomas make up less than 2% of all breast cancers. This begins in the cells that line the insides of your blood vessels and lymph nodes. Angiosarcoma will lead to:

  • Breast lump
  • Bruising on the skin surface – purple tone
  • Easily bleeding skin when scratched or bumped
  • Pain

 

Breast Lumps

Breast lumps are a common occurrence and are usually benign findings (non-cancerous). There are conditions that can cause breast lumps, including:

  • Fibroadenoma. Causes smooth round lumps that move around very easily, they do not cause any pain.
  • Fibrocystic changes. There may be pain, tenderness and cysts.
  • Breast infections. These are small sacs of pus (abscess) that commonly occurs after childbirth.
  • Clogged milk glands
  • Injuries. Causes scar tissues.

If you find a lump in your breast or armpit, see your doctor. If you see some symptoms such as fever, redness, pain, or discharge, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

 

Breast Cancer Recurrence

Long after surgery, breast cancer may return or recur. It could appear in the same breast (local), in lymph nodes around the initial cancer (regional), or in a separate area of the body (metastatic or distant).

The first two years after treatment are when cancer is more likely to return. After that, the probability steadily declines with time.

Your doctor will go over what to look out for with you. The below are examples of local symptoms:

  • New breast lump
  • New changes in the skin of the breast, nipple, underarm or skin
  • New lumps on the surface of chest
  • New thickening near or on the scar site from the previous mastectomy (breast surgery)

Mastectomy and reconstruction surgery to repair a breast may result in the formation of scar tissue or fat cells. These lumps aren’t cancerous tumours. However, it’s important to inform the doctor about them and keep an eye out for any changes.

Regional recurrence symptoms include:

  • Lump or swelling on chest, under arm or above collarbone
  • Arm swelling
  • Pain in arm or shoulder
  • Numbness in arm or shoulder
  • Pain in chest
  • Difficulty swallowing

Metastatic recurrence symptoms vary depending on which body part is affected. The bones, lungs, brain, and liver are the most common sites for recurrence. You may have:

  • Headache
  • Visual changes like double vision, partial blindness
  • Bone pain
  • Altered mood and behaviour
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Balance impairments
  • Dry cough

Sources

Referenced on 25.3.2021

  1. American Cancer Society: “Breast Cancer Symptoms: What You Need to Know,” “Learn about Cancer: Breast Cancer," “Breast Cancer.”
  2. National Cancer Institute: “Breast Cancer."
  3. CDC: “Breast Cancer."
  4. American Society for Clinical Oncology: “Breast Cancer,” “Breast Cancer in Men,” “Breast Cancer — Inflammatory.”
  5. Mayo Clinic: “Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).”
  6. Cleveland Clinic: “Lobular Breast Cancer.”
  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC),” “Breast Cancer Recurrence,” “Papillary Breast Cancer.”
  8. Merck Manual Consumer Version: “Breast Cancer,” Breast Disorders in Men,” “Breast Lumps.”
  9. National Health Service (U.K.): “Breast cancer — secondary.”
  10. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment: “Papillary Carcinoma of the Breast: An Overview.”
  11. Medscape: “Breast Cancer.”
  12. Canadian Cancer Society: “Symptoms of breast cancer.”
  13. National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research: “Angiosarcoma.”
  14. https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/understanding-breast-cancer-symptoms

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