Breast cancer is a broad term for any cancer that originates in breast tissue. The average risk of a woman in the U.S. being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her lifetime is about 13 percent, or one in eight women. There are many different types of breast cancer and each patient’s plan of care is individualized.
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Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Some of the risk factors for developing breast cancer include:
- Menstruating at an early age
- Going through menopause at a later age
- Never having given birth or giving birth at an older age
- Not breastfeeding
- A family history of breast cancer
- Inheriting certain genes
- Taking hormone replacement therapy (like estrogen)
- Taking some birth control methods that use hormones
- Having dense breast tissue
- Lack of exercise
- Drinking alcohol
- Age (most women are diagnosed at age 55 or older)
Signs & Symptoms
Remaining up-to-date on recommended breast cancer screening guidelines and being familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel is important. Discuss any of the following signs and symptoms with your doctor:
- A lump, hard knot, or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
- A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast.
- A nipple turned inward into the breast.
- Fluid (other than breast milk) from the nipple, especially if it is bloody.
- Scaly, red, swollen, flaky, dry, or thickened skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (dark area of the skin around the nipple).
- Dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange, called peau d’orange.
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast.
- Swollen lymph nodes under the armpit.
- Keep in mind that most women with breast cancer have no symptoms. Most breast cancers are found on a screening mammogram before a woman develops symptoms.
- Based on the American College of Radiology (ACR) and Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) breast cancer screening guidelines for women at average risk, women should have annual mammograms beginning at age 40.
- If you have a family history of breast cancer or are at a higher than average risk for breast cancer, you may be advised to start mammograms before age 40. Other screening tests, like a breast MRI, may also be recommended.
- If you think you might be at high risk, talk to your family doctor, gynecologist, or breast surgical oncologist about a formal risk evaluation.
Breast Cancer or Normal Breast Changes – How Do You Know the Difference?
Most breast changes turn out to be completely normal. Numerous things can affect the size, firmness, and sensitivity of your breasts. Changes in hormone levels (during pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause), medications, weight changes, and aging can bring about breast changes.
Other causes of breast lumps or “lumpy breasts” include fibrocystic changes or dense breast tissue. Fibrocystic changes typically occur monthly around the time of menstruation. Talk to your doctor about changes you notice and they will determine if any testing is necessary.
When to Speak to Your Doctor About Breast Changes
Be sure to keep up with your annual gynecologic exams, which are recommended to begin at age 25. These visits may include a breast exam and a discussion about mammograms based on your personal and family health history.
Learn More About Breast Cancer