12 Overlooked Breast Cancer Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer globally1. As of 2021, 13% of women in the US are diagnosed with breast cancer. Did you know that more than 3.8 million women have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the US alone? That’s alarming. That’s why you should be aware of the breast cancer signs, especially during its early stage.

Do we really want to increase these numbers? Let us stop increasing these statistics by raising awareness of the early signs of breast cancer. Remember that the key to full recovery from breast cancer is early detection.

Some people think that a lump in the breast is the only tell-tale sign of breast cancer. Little did we know, there are other overlooked signs of breast cancer other than a lump. Additionally, there are uncommon signs of breast cancer that may progress but goes completely unnoticed.

That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the overlooked symptoms of breast cancer to ensure your safety. Also, as you familiarize yourself with the uncommon symptoms of breast cancer, spread awareness and share your knowledge with your friends and family as well.

However, remember that you don’t have to wait for the obvious signs to show up. An annual physical check-up and monthly self-breast examination are always essential for the early detection of breast cancer.

So what are these overlooked signs of breast cancer you should be familiar with? Here’s what you need to know:

1. Changes in Breast Size

One uncommon sign of breast cancer is a change in breast size. Women may experience changes in breast size due to pregnancy, menstruation, or aging, especially after menopause. But for these kinds of changes, both breasts change in size.

However, if only one side of the breast changes in sign, then this is not good news. When one breast appears abnormally large and heavy, it is best to see a doctor right away. That’s why it’s important to look for asymmetrical changes in your breast size by looking at the mirror or by cupping your breasts.

2. Red, Purple, or Blue Spots

Red, purple or blue spots on the breast are an uncommon sign of breast cancer. This may be a form of Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), which is rare2. Others may mistake it for a rash or an insect bite. However, rashes go away on their own; you can distinguish the difference between the two. Rashes are harmless and eventually disappear after several days.

On the other hand, an uncommon sign of breast cancer is red, purple, or blue spots that don’t disappear for several weeks or more. For some, the rash only appears as tiny spots, while for some, these spots may cover the entire breast. So if you notice an unusual rash that doesn’t go away for a week or more, then you should see a doctor right away.

3. Dimpled Skin

A dimpled skin on the breast is also an uncommon sign of breast cancer. What does dimpling on the breast look like? It may appear like a small area of the skin is pulled in. For some, the dimpled skin may look red and inflamed.

Dimpled skin is a major red flag of inflammatory breast cancer. This type of breast cancer results from the blockage of the lymph vessels in the skin. How can you detect dimpled skin on the breast? It’s through monthly self-breast examinations by standing in front of the mirror and feeling your breast for any change. Do this as a monthly routine

Methods of Breast Examination
Blausen Medical Communications, Inc. / Wikimedia

4. Itchy Breasts

Of course, you have felt your breast itch due to sunburn, tight bra, eczema, or allergies. However, if your breast, nipple, or areola area itches persistently for several weeks, it’s time to see a doctor. This is an uncommon sign of breast cancer that other women ignore because it’s mistaken as a simple itching. But if it doesn’t go away, go see a doctor right away.

5. Inverted or Retracted Nipples

Some women are naturally born with inverted nipples. However, if your nipple is retracted or inverted over time, you should not ignore this sign. Various forms of breast cancer, like ductal carcinoma in situ or invasive ductal carcinoma, manifests from an inverted nipple. If you notice unusual changes in your nipple, consult a doctor right away.

6. Warmer Than Usual Skin in The Breast Area

Warm, swollen, or painful breasts are common signs of mastitis. Mastitis is the inflammation of breast tissues due to infection, often associated with breastfeeding. Some women also have fevers and chills because of mastitis.

However, if your breast gets unusually red, swollen, warm, or inflamed, even without currently breastfeeding and even for men, this is a symptom that you shouldn’t overlook. Get yourself examined right away, and don’t prolong the wait.

7. Fluid Leakage

It’s normal for pregnant and lactating women to have milk leakage because of the mammary glands producing milk. However, if you’re not pregnant or have been years since you gave birth, leaking fluid from the breasts is a huge red flag.

It’s an uncommon sign for some because others may not notice any fluid leaking as it is absorbed through their brassiere. That’s why it’s important to be always observant of any leaks or check your brassiere for wetness as you take it off at the end of the day.

8. Bloody Discharges

Bloody nipple discharge may be due to several causes. It may be caused by a breast tissue infection, an unusual growth in the milk ducts, or cracked nipples due to breastfeeding. Although rare, bloody discharges from the breast may be an indicative sign of breast cancer. As worrying as it may sound, seeing blood come out of your nipple, go to your doctor right away.

9. Swollen Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are part of the immune system that helps fight bodily infections or diseases. The lymph nodes may get swollen as the body responds to fight infection. However, consult a doctor right away if the lymph nodes around your breast, armpit, or collarbone area have been swollen for a long time. It is categorized as uncommon because the naked eye cannot easily see a swollen lymph node.

10. Sore or Aching Armpit Area

Since the armpit is close to the breast, the armpits also contain breast tissues. If you’ve been feeling an unusual sore or aching in the armpit area, it may be an indicative sign of breast cancer. In addition, there may be soreness or inflammation that doesn’t go away.

Unless you’ve been doing strenuous exercises such as push-ups that may cause the soreness, then you don’t have to worry. But if the soreness doesn’t go away for a long time, it may be a red flag of breast cancer.

11. New, Visible Veins in The Breast

It’s normal for some women to have visible veins in the breast. However, if newly visible veins appear out of nowhere, this may be an early sign of breast cancer. Make sure to be observant and check for the appearance of blue or green lines around the breast.

12. Unusual Tingling Sensation

Pregnant and lactating women may feel a strange tickling sensation, which is expected. If you’re not pregnant, lactating, or it has been years since you’ve given birth but feel an unusual tingling sensation on your breast, get yourself examined right away. This is a rare and overlooked sign of breast cancer.

woman who overcome breast cancer

Bottom Line

Do you see? Lumps are not the only signs you should look for in breast cancer. There are many other uncommon signs that you shouldn’t ignore. If you notice any of the 12 signs mentioned above, consult with a doctor as soon as possible.

No one knows your body as you do, so make sure to be observant of any changes in size, pain, or discharge you feel. If something feels unusual or you’ve noticed an unexplained sign before, do not delay consultation because the key to full recovery from breast cancer is early detection. Most importantly, share your knowledge and spread awareness as well.


1 National Cancer Institute – Common Cancer Types
2 Breast Cancer Org – Inflammatory Breast Cancer