The 5 breast cancer symptoms you don’t know

October 1, 2013

Almost everyone knows that a lump can be a sign of breast cancer, but research shows few New Zealand women are aware of the other symptoms. This October, Breast Cancer Month, the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation aims to educate women to be aware of all the signs, and to report any changes to their doctor. This is the first time the October campaign has focused on signs and symptoms.

The five lesser-known signs of breast cancer are:

-          changes in the skin of the breast, including dimpling, puckering or redness

-          a change in breast shape or size

-          unusual breast pain

-          changes in the nipple, e.g. a turned-in nipple

-          a nipple discharge.

“I didn’t realise soreness and redness could mean anything like breast cancer,” said Christchurch woman Nicki Hayles, diagnosed last year with Grade 3 invasive cancer. She was 47 at the time, was having regular mammograms, and had no family history of breast cancer. Mrs Hayles had experienced pain in one breast on and off for a year, before a mammogram detected her cancer.

Nicki Hayles is far from alone in her lack of awareness of non-lump symptoms. NZBCF research shows that while 97% of women know that a lump can be a sign of breast cancer, only 5% are aware that puckering or dimpling of the skin can be a symptom, and only 2% know an inverted nipple may mean breast cancer. [1]

“Around half of breast cancers are detected outside of mammogram screening,” said NZBCF chief executive Van Henderson. “Some are in women who are too young for screening, while others are interval cancers – tumours that develop between mammograms. That’s why it’s so important for all women to know all the symptoms and to report any changes to their doctor.”

While most lumps and other symptoms turn out not to be breast cancer, the NZBCF urges women not to ignore these symptoms. Around 2800 Kiwi women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and more than 600 will die of the disease. All women over 20 should know the normal look and feel of their breasts so they can report any changes. From age 40, women should be getting regular mammograms, as tumours detected by mammogram are often smaller and more easily treated than those detected symptomatically. For more information, visit

[1] NZ women aged 20-39: research commissioned by the NZBCF from Colmar Brunton (October 2012)