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Methodist Healthcare

Breast cancer signs, symptoms, and risk factors

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. That's why it's important to know the signs, symptoms and risk factors.

October 26, 2023

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the U.S., with approximately 13 percent of women (about 1 in 8) diagnosed in their lifetime. Although it’s rare for men to develop breast cancer, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about one out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. is found in a man in 2023. That’s why it’s important for both genders to understand risk factors as well as the signs and symptoms of this type of cancer.

Risk factors

Numerous risk factors can increase your chance of developing breast cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these include:

  • Age — Breast cancer is most common in women who are 50 years old and older.
  • Genetics — Women who have inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
  • Family history — Having a first-degree relative (sibling, parent or child) with breast cancer.
  • Breast density — As density of the breast increases (more fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue), risk increases.
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy — Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (for instance, treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases — Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical ductal hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Reproductive history — Starting menstrual periods before age 12, and starting menopause after age 55, expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.

Women should talk with their physicians regularly, starting as early as age 25, about their individualized risk for breast cancer, as women who are high-risk may benefit from genetic counseling or early screening.

Signs and symptoms

Keep in mind that breast cancer can still develop even without these risk factors present, and many risk factors are still being researched. Breast cancer has more than a 90.8 percent five-year survival rate, but early detection is key.

Here are some common signs of breast cancer:

  • A new lump or mass, which may be painless or painful, hard or soft.
  • Swelling in all or part of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (the nipple turns inward)
  • A change in the skin of the nipple/breast, whether by reddening, becoming scaly or thickening
  • Nipple discharge (any discharge that isn't breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm/collarbone
October 26, 2023

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