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Symptoms – Breast Warmth

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024

Many people with breast cancer have no symptoms when they are first diagnosed. For others, there may be warning signs. If you notice persistent changes in how your breast looks or feels, have it checked.1

A new breast lump is likely to prompt you to call your doctor. However, you may overlook less common symptoms, like a breast that feels warm to the touch.1,2

Common signs of breast cancer

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump in the breast or armpit. While many breast lumps are not cancerous, it is crucial to have any new breast symptoms checked by your doctor.1

Common potential signs of breast cancer include:2

  • A lump in the breast, under the arm, or above the collarbone
  • Changes in the size, shape, or appearance of the breast
  • Skin redness, thickening, or puckering
  • Changes in the nipple shape or surrounding skin
  • Fluid leaking from the nipple
  • Breast pain

Breast warmth

In some cases of breast cancer, the breast may feel warm to the touch. Breast warmth may be a sign of underlying inflammation. Warmth can also be due to causes that are not cancer, such as injury, hormonal changes, and complications from breast implants.2-4

Some possible causes of breast warmth include:3,4

  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Infection (mastitis)

Inflammatory breast cancer

Breast warmth could be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare form of breast cancer that affects the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast.3,5

Inflammatory breast cancer causes the breast to appear inflamed (red and swollen). This type of cancer often does not cause a lump or show up on a mammogram. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer can develop quickly.3,5

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may include:3,5

  • Breast swelling and redness
  • Breast warmth and a feeling of heaviness
  • Pitting or thickening of the skin of the breast (it may look like an orange peel)
  • A nipple that looks inverted or pulled in
  • A rapid increase in the size of one breast
  • Breast pain, tenderness, or itching
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes under the arm or above the collarbone

Inflammatory breast cancer can grow quickly. By the time it is diagnosed, this type of cancer has often spread to other parts of the body. For this reason and others, people with inflammatory breast cancer often have worse outcomes than people with other types of breast cancer.3,5

How is inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed?

If you have breast warmth, swelling, and redness, call your doctor right away. Your doctor may recommend trying antibiotics if an infection is suspected. If your symptoms do not improve, you will need further testing.5

Tests used to diagnose inflammatory breast cancer may include:3,5

Your doctor also may recommend other tests to find out whether cancer has spread to other parts of your body. These may include:3

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Bone scan

Mastitis

Another possible cause of breast warmth is mastitis. Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue often due to infection. Mastitis is most common in people who are breastfeeding, but it can occur in other cases. Mastitis is commonly treated with antibiotics. The condition does not increase your risk of breast cancer.6

If you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, or you are postmenopausal, the odds that your breast warmth is caused by mastitis are low.5

Symptoms of mastitis can start suddenly and may include:6

  • Breast pain and swelling
  • Redness and warmth
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, and headache

You know your body best. If you notice breast warmth or any other new breast symptom, talk to your doctor about getting checked.

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