SEER Logo

SEER Training Modules

Signs & Symptoms

The earliest sign of breast cancer is an abnormality that shows up on a mammogram before it can be felt by the woman or her health care provider. When breast cancer has grown to the point where physical signs and symptoms exist, a breast lump, or tenderness; skin irritation or dimpling; and nipple discharge and/or pain, scaliness, ulceration, or retraction may be noticed. Breast pain is commonly due to benign conditions and is not usually the first symptom of breast cancer.

Mammography is especially valuable as an early detection tool because it can identify breast cancer at an early stage before physical symptoms develop. Studies have shown that early detection saves lives and increases treatment options. The reduction in breast cancer mortality have been attributed, in large part, to the regular use of screening mammography and awareness education. The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older have an annual mammogram, an annual clinical breast examination by a health care professional (close to and preferably before the scheduled mammogram), and perform monthly breast self-examination. Women ages 20-39 should have a clinical breast examination by a health care professional every three years and should perform breast self-examination monthly.

When a woman has a suspicious lump or other abnormality on an initial mammogram, further testing can help determine whether additional tests are needed. Mammography alone does not provide a sufficient assessment. All suspicious lumps should be biopsied for a definitive diagnosis.