Breast cancer symptoms: The sign in your armpit that could signal the deadly disease

Breast cancer symptoms are usually found in or on the breast – a lump or an area of thickened tissue in the breast is usually one of the first signs of the disease. But in some cases, signs of breast cancer can be found in the armpit.


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A lump or swelling in either of your armpits is a symptom of breast cancer.

Cancer Research UK explains: “You can’t usually feel the lymph glands in your body. But they often become swollen when you have an infection or a cold, including the lymph nodes in the armpit.

“A less common cause of swollen lymph glands or lump in the armpit is breast cancer that has spread to this area.”

American Cancer Society adds: “Swelling or lumps around your collarbone or armpits can be caused by breast cancer that has spread to lymph nodes in those areas.”

But it warns: “The swelling may occur even before you can feel a lump in your breast, so if you have this symptom, be sure to see a doctor.”

The first symptom of breast cancer for many women is a lump in the breast, but it’s important to note most breast lumps are not cancer (benign).

Cancer Research UK says most benign breast lumps are:

  • Areas of normal lumpiness that is more obvious just before a period
  • Cysts – sacs of fluid in the breast tissue, which are quite common
  • Fibroadenoma – a collection of fibrous glandular tissue (these are common in younger women, for example under 30)

It’s still important to always get a breast lump checked by a doctor.

Other symptoms of breast cancer listed by the NHS include:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • A discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.


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How to check your breasts for breast cancer

There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts, says the NHS, but it’s important to know how your breasts usually look and feel.

This way, you can spot and changes quickly and report them to your GP.

The health body explains: “Every woman’s breasts are different in terms of size, shape and consistency. It’s also possible for one breast to be larger than the other.

Get used to how your breasts feel at different times of the month. This can change during your menstrual cycle.

“For example, some women have tender and lumpy breasts, especially near the armpit, around the time of their period.

“After the menopause, normal breasts feel softer, less firm and not as lumpy.”

The NHS Breast Screening Programme has produced a 5-point plan for being breast aware:

  • Know what’s normal for you
  • Look at your breasts and feel them
  • Know what changes to look for
  • Report any changes without delay
  • Attend routine screening if you’re 50 or over

The NHS adds: “Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, and up to your collarbone. You may find it easiest to do this in the shower or bath, by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit.

“You can also look at your breasts in the mirror. Look with your arms by your side and also with them raised.”

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