Spotting the signs and symptoms of breast cancer

Woman checking her breasts

by Lorna White |
Updated on

It's incredibly important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and even if you’re on the younger side or if you’re pregnant, breast cancer can still affect you.

We spoke to Dr Penny Kechagioglou, Chief Medical Officer and Clinical Oncologist specialising in Breast at GenesisCare who shared her top tips on how to check your breasts.

Dr Penny’s warning signs:

• A change in your breast appearance, such as swelling, redness, change in size/shape

• A change in nipple appearance, such as inversion, discharge, a rash, skin puckering/dimpling or crusting

• Persistent pain in the breast or armpit

• A lump in the tissue of the breast or armpit area

What colour is breast cancer discharge?

Typically, the colour of discharge caused by breast cancer is an off-white colour.

This might be harder to spot however if you are breastfeeding.

Are cancer lumps painful?

Cancer lumps are often painless to touch, however they can cause pain as they grow and press against muscles or nerves.

How to check your breasts

"The best way to check for breast lumps (hard, non-mobile, maybe fixed to skin or chest wall) is lying down comfortably and using the opposite hand, palpate all quadrants of the breast in a clockwise or anti-clockwise motion.

"The tail of the breast that leads to the armpit should be felt, as well as a deep feel in the armpit looking for enlarged, hard and fixed lumps (lymph nodes). Palpation should be supplemented with observation of both breasts standing up and in front of a mirror.

"Ideally, both arms should go behind the head and once happy with breast appearances, then lean forward and look for any skin puckering or change in breast shape."

"Don't forget to check both breasts, areas under both armpits and areas above both collar bones." Says Dr Penny.

How often should you check your breasts?

It’s important we check our own breasts on a regular basis, but checking too often isn’t always a good idea.

Penny says, "Once a month is an adequate time for examination. More frequently it becomes an obsession. Do a good examination once a month and be aware of what is normal for you and present early when something doesn’t look right. If you see something isn’t right, you should come forward and see your doctor."

Due to our hormonal fluctuations, swelling and tenderness in the breasts can be normal which is why it's also recommended to check your breasts a week after your period ends to avoid feeling any hormonal swelling or tenderness and mistaking it for something out of the ordinary.

Breast cancer in pregnancy

Sadly, breast cancer can affect women at any stage of their lives and even in some cases, during pregnancy.

"If you’re worried it’s always best to see a specialist," says Dr Penny.

"I would say the majority of the lumps that are found in pregnancy in the breast are part of the normal changes in the breast during pregnancy, but it’s important to have these checked in case there is an abnormality."

If you're in need of further support if you are going through breast cancer during pregnancy and need some help, there are a lot of breast cancer charities including Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Now that provide information for women in every stage of their lives, including women in pregnancy.

"Treatment can be offered during pregnancy and a treatment plan can be figured out so that the pregnancy can continue as normal to allow you to have a healthy baby," says Penny.

What to do if you're worried about visiting a GP surgery or hospital

With all the changing rules and regulations telling us to avoid social situations as much as possible, it's understandable you might want to avoid places such as hospitals or GP surgeries as much as possible. However, if you think you may be showing signs of breast cancer, it's important to get checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible.

"Delaying your diagnosis could affect the prognosis and your chances of survival so it’s very important to seek help early." Says Dr Penny.

What is secondary breast cancer?

Secondary breast cancer is where the cancer has started to spread to other parts of the body, according to Cancer Research UK.

It most commonly spreads to the lungs, brain, liver or bones. While secondary breast cancer can't be cured, treatment aims to help relieve symptoms and maintain it.

How can I support breast cancer research?

There are a number of ways you can raise money to help support Breast Cancer Charities.

Coffee mornings or bake sales

A great way to bring people together, you can host a coffee morning and sell homemade or shop bought cakes and use the money raised to donate to charities.

Sponsored walks

These can often be done as seasonal events by charities themselves, where you sign up and ask friends and family to sponsor you to run or walk a certain distance.


You can reach out to local business owners to see if they would be happy to contribute an item or service (such as free hair cut or afternoon tea), that you can raffle to friends and family.

More support

If you have been affected by cancer or you are worried about symptoms, there are many helpful charities and resources that can offer help and support throughout your journey.

Breast Cancer Now - Breast Cancer Now are doing a lot to help out women affected by breast cancer and funding vital research.

Cancer Research UK - Have you been impacted by a different kind of cancer? Visit Cancer Research UK for further help.

CoppaFeel - This charity can provide you with more help when it comes to checking your breasts.

Against Breast Cancer - They're on a mission to find a vaccine against breast cancer.

Pink Ribbon Foundation - Find plenty of helpful information and support for those with breast cancer.

When is Breast Cancer Awareness month?

The month of October marks Breast Cancer Awareness month here in the UK.

If you're wondering when Breast Cancer Awareness Day 2024 is, this year it falls on October 27th. This day typically has people wearing pink and participating in fundraising activities to support cancer charities.

About the expert

Dr Penny Kechagioglou is a Chief Medical Officer and Clinical Oncologist specialising in Breast Cancer and Acute Oncology at GenesisCare. She graduated from University of Wales College of Medicine with Honours in 2003, then completed internal medicine training in the UK followed by specialist training in Clinical Oncology in 2010.

Lorna White is a Senior Digital Writer and has written for Mother&Baby since 2020. She has a keen interest in a range of topics, from potty training and nutrition to baby names and maternity fashion.

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