At BCCA we believe in treating the mind, body, and spirit as a whole, as well as prevention, treatment, and survival. It is our mission at The Breast Cancer Charities of America to help eliminate breast cancer. In order to complete our mission, we must provide the most up to date and accurate information and share knowledge to educate and teach our community about early detection and self-examination as well as the signs, symptoms and stages of breast cancer.



Breast Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of breast cancer vary from one person to the next. Perhaps the most recognized symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass discovered in the breast tissue. While many women go to their physician after feeling a lump, they should also be aware of any other changes to the nipple or breast.

Typically, early breast cancer does not cause symptoms. However, as the tumor grows it can change how the breast looks or feels. If you notice any changes, it is always a good idea to be proactive and follow up with your doctor to discuss any symptom of concern that does not go away. Often some symptoms are not due to cancer, and you could be experiencing another health problem or issue that causes them.

The more common breast cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • Change in size or shape of the breast (particularly over a short period of time).

  • Lumps or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.

  • Change in breast color (red or swollen).

  • Dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast.

  • Discharge (fluid) from the nipple (especially if it is a bloody discharge).

  • General pain in or on any part of the breast.

  • Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples (peeling or flaking of the nipple skin).

  • A nipple turned inward into the breast.

  • Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm).

  • Irritated or itchy breasts.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider immediately so that the problems can be diagnosed and treated.


Early Detection

Breast cancer is often detected after symptoms appear, however many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. Because of this, regular breast cancer screening is vital.

  • Further Imaging Tests

  • Biopsy

  • Lab Tests with Breast Tissue

Annual screenings are instrumental in early breast cancer detection. Doctors recommend that women have regular clinical breast exams and mammograms, which aid in detecting breast cancer in the early stages. Women in their 20’s and 30’s should have clinical breast examinations during their yearly physical. At age 40, women with average breast cancer risk typically begin annual mammograms. It is important to remember that not all breast cancers are found through mammography.

Although you should have your physician perform a breast examination annually as part of your well-woman checkup, it is important that you maintain a routine habit of monthly self-examination. If you feel a lump in your breast tissue, try not to panic. Most lumps are not breast cancer; they are usually something less serious such as a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition. Contact your physician to schedule an examination to determine whether other tests or biopsies are required.

Medical treatment is more likely to work well when breast cancer is detected early.


Importance of Monthly Breast Self-Examination

When you are regularly examining your breasts, you become familiar with how they normally look and feel, and you are more likely to recognize any changes. When performing your monthly examination, you need to look for any changes or irregularities in your breasts.

Have you noticed any of these changes in the breast or underarm area?

  • Lumps/Knots

  • Swelling

  • Pain

  • Redness

  • Itching

  • Dimpling

  • Puckering

  • Discharge

  • Size/Shape

Remember your role in self-examination can help diagnose breast cancer. Your monthly self-examination should not take the place of your annual well-woman checkup, but it should be performed in addition to in order to improve your chances of an early breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and cure

  1. Stand with your shoulders straight and your arms by your side. Look at your breast in the mirror. You are looking for any changes in your breast (size, color, shape, etc.).
  2. Next, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
  3. While you are looking at the mirror, check for any signs of discharge (fluid) coming out of one or both nipples. The discharge could be a watery, milky or yellow fluid or possibly blood.
  4. Next, examine your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter. Examine the entire breast area, including your armpit and cleavage.
  5. Lastly, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. For some women it is easiest to examine their breasts while in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand motion described in step 4.


Stages of Breast Cancer

  1. What is the size of the cancer?
  2. Is the cancer invasive or non-invasive?
  3. Is the cancer in the lymph nodes?
  4. Has the cancer spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body?

Understanding the stages of breast cancer is one of the most important factors in evaluating and determining treatment options. Staging cancer may involve blood tests and other tests. These are the stages of breast cancer:

Stage 0-There is no evidence of cancer cells spreading out of the part of the breast in which they started or of getting through to or invading neighboring normal tissue.

Stage I-The tumor measures up to 2 centimeters and no lymph nodes are involved.

Stage II-(Invasive Breast Cancer) The tumor measures between 2 to 5 centimeters, or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm on the same side as the breast cancer.

Stage III-(Locally Advanced Breast Cancer) The tumor in the breast is more than 2 inches in diameter across and the cancer is extensive in the underarm lymph nodes or has spread to other lymph nodes or tissues near the breast.'

Stage IV-(Metastatic Breast Cancer) The cancer has spread beyond the breast, underarm and internal mammary lymph nodes to other parts of the body near to or distant from the breast.
Recurrent Cancer-The disease has returned in spite of initial treatment.


Overall Health & Wellness

Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health when it comes to preventing any illness, including breast cancer. If you have been recently diagnosed or know someone who has been diagnosed it’s extremely important to maintain a positive spirit during your diagnosis.

7 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Mind

  • Find joy in helping others; get involved within your community.

  • Treat yourself and others with kindness.

  • Make time to do the things you love.

Your body will undoubtedly go through many changes, and at time will maybe even feel foreign to you. Staying healthy and making wise nutritional decisions, will help you feel more like yourself throughout your diagnosis. Check out our Healthy Grocery List and healthy recipes to maintain a well-balanced diet. Making good nutritional choices is one of the best defenses against any illness, along with breast cancer.

Healthy Nutritional Tips & Tricks

  • Eat your vegetables! At least 2/3 of your plate should consist of fresh vegetables

  • Start your day with a whole grain cereal

  • Add Asparagus, Beans, or Sunflower seeds to your salad for additional Folate. Low folate intakes have been positively associated with several different cancer types.

  • Indulge in tomatoes. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which has been linked to reducing cancerous cells.

  • Drink Green Tea. Green tea consumption has been proven to slow development of cancer cells.

  • Limit or eliminate your alcohol intake, as alcohol can increase your risk for breast cancer.

Exercise Tips

  • Make your exercise a social event and invite your friends.

  • Switch up your workout routine, to avoid getting stuck in a rut.

  • Make a schedule and stick to it to ensure that you are exercising regularly.

  • Keep an exercise journal or goal sheet to document your progress.

  • Reward yourself for all of the hard work you put in.

  • Be flexible and listen to your body. It’s ok to take a break when you need one.


Breast Cancer Support Systems

Everyone handles a breast cancer diagnosis differently, but it is important to be as supportive as possible. It may be difficult for a loved one to ask for help or even talk about their diagnosis. Offering practical help is the best way to make things easier on your loved one.

  • Educate yourself on their cancer diagnosis.

  • Support their decisions when it comes to treatment.

  • Include them in normal daily activities, to help keep their sense of normalcy.

  • Prepare meals for days when they are not feeling well.

  • Run errands for them and even pick up their prescriptions.

  • Send a thoughtful Card of Hope.

For additional tools on breast cancer education, please visit our Free Downloads page.