Breast cancer: recognizing symptoms and examining the breast properly

Breast cancer recognizing symptoms and examining the breast properly

Breast cancer , also known as mammary carcinoma, is the most common type of cancer in women in industrialized countries. Women between the ages of 50 and 70 are particularly affected by breast cancer. The stage at which the tumor is discovered can be decisive for the chances of recovery. It is all the more important to recognize the typical symptoms of breast cancer as early as possible in order to be able to react to potential signs at an early stage. In the vast majority of cases, the symptoms are unilateral, since usually only one breast   is affected by the cancer .


Our photo series shows what breast cancer looks like and what symptoms can occur in the different stages. You will also learn how women can feel their breasts themselves. This is important in order to be able to identify symptoms such as  breast lumps  yourself.

Please note, however, that this series of photos can only provide initial information. In no case does it replace a preventive check-up or a medical check-up. If you experience any health problems or notice any of the following symptoms, seek medical advice.

Lumps and hardening – what does breast cancer feel like?

A tumor can be felt from a size of about two centimeters as a small hardening or lump in the breast. As a rule, the tumor does not cause any pain and cannot be moved, as it often grows into the surrounding tissue.

It should be noted that hardening of the breast tissue can also occur in the course of the menstrual cycle for hormonal reasons. Not every palpable change is therefore automatically cancer. If in doubt, a permanent hardening that lasts longer than one to two weeks should always be clarified by a doctor.

Skin redness as a possible symptom

Diffuse, irregularly limited reddening of the skin can also occur in breast cancer. It is usually accompanied by swelling, heat build-up and pain in the affected area. Itching  or flaking can also  occur. It is often an inflammatory, i.e. inflammatory, breast cancer. Similar symptoms also occur with a mammary gland infection.

Skin lesions in breast cancer

Skin changes are a typical symptom of breast cancer. In addition to reddening of the skin, it is also possible for the skin to be drawn in, which becomes visible in the form of conspicuous furrows on the chest. The term “orange peel” is also often used for this phenomenon.

Pulling in the nipple as a visible warning signal

In so-called retromammary cancer, i.e. a tumor behind the nipple, the nipple often retracts. This means that the front part of the nipple is no longer or hardly visible above the areola, but disappears inside the areola.

Other changes in the nipple as a sign

Changes in nipple size and/or color can also be a symptom. Another possible warning sign is bloody or clear discharge that comes out of the nipple when it is squeezed. However, inflammation of the mammary glands can also be behind these signs.

Sunken breast or altered shape as a symptom

An altered breast shape (due to swelling) or a sunken breast can occur with breast cancer. These changes become particularly clear when you raise your arms.

Larger lumps in the armpit

Because breast cancer can metastasize to the  lymph nodes  in the armpit, larger, firm lumps in the armpit can also indicate breast cancer. But even with infections, such as the  flu , the lymph nodes can swell. This is then an indication that the  immune system  is active. If the swelling does not change over several weeks and/or if there is no infection at the same time, this should be clarified by a doctor.

The chest burns like fire or hurts

Many women think of breast cancer when the breast burns like fire, especially when the burning in the breast is unilateral. Burning or painful breasts often have causes other than breast cancer, such as inflammation of the mammary glands or hormonal fluctuations. In rare cases, however, these symptoms can also indicate breast cancer if, at a later stage of the disease, surrounding tissue has been destroyed by the tumor or  inflammation  has been triggered by tumor growth. If there is inflammation, redness and swelling usually also occur in the affected area.

Palpation of the breast – instructions

Regular palpation of the breast is one of the most important measures in order to be able to carry out breast cancer screening independently at home – because this allows lumps or hardening to be felt. What should be considered when palpating the breast?

  1. Make sure you have good lighting and a quiet environment.
  2. Stand up straight, undressed, and check your breasts in front of the mirror for visual changes. These include, for example, swelling or skin changes. To do this, look at your two breasts one after the other and compare them – once with your arms hanging down, supported on your hips and once with your arms raised.
  3. Carefully feel your breasts with three fingers, using the opposite hand for each breast. Feel each breast in waves, first from the outside in and then from top to bottom. The pressure of the fingers should be varied in order to be able to feel any changes directly under the skin and in the underlying tissue. Repeat the step while lying down.
  4. Feel your nipples and gently squeeze them. If liquid escapes, this can be a sign of breast cancer.
  5. Raise one arm and feel your armpit with the fingers of the other hand. Can you feel swelling or lumps under the armpit? Repeat the process on the other side.
  6. Also feel the chest muscles near the armpit with the opposite hand while keeping the arm on the affected side lowered.

Both breasts should be palpated once a month. During and after the  menopause  , the specific time is irrelevant. If menopause has not yet occurred, the examination should be carried out between the  third and seventh day  after the onset of menstrual bleeding. Then the tissue is least affected by hormonal hardening.

What does breast cancer look like on mammography?

The breast is also palpated during the gynecological examination. In addition,  mammography is  an important screening test to detect breast cancer. In a mammogram, the breast is examined using X-rays to detect very small tumors or microcalcifications that are not yet palpable. The latter can be a preliminary stage of breast cancer. In the mammography, these irregularities are visible as white, dense patches.

In order to rule out an erroneous finding, if cancer is suspected, a tissue sample should be taken after the mammography or an ultrasound examination or an  MRI should  be carried out.


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