In the United States, one out of eight women develops breast cancer at some point in her life. As for who gets the disease, that’s not so easy to predict.
“A lot of times, women think family history is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer,” said Dr. Rae Ann Williams, who leads HealthPartners’ Internal Medicine department. “But the data tells us that most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have any family history of the disease.”
This is why it’s so important to make breast cancer prevention a priority – like keeping up on routine preventive care checkups, breast cancer screening mammograms, and performing your own breast exams.
According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early – and is in the localized stage – the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%.
While preventive care is vital, knowing your breasts and what’s normal for you is extremely important for your breast health, too. This means you should be on the lookout for changes. And this also means you shouldn’t ignore certain symptoms.
So, what should you be watching for? And if you’ve noticed a change in your breasts, which symptoms can be a sign of something more serious? Below, we share some of the most common signs and symptoms of breast cancer.
Breast cancer symptoms
While the earliest signs of breast cancer are usually discovered during a screening mammogram, before you’ve felt or noticed any symptoms, you should also be on the lookout for:
A lump in your breast or underarm
A lump (or thickening) in your breast or underarm can be the first noticeable sign of breast cancer. If you notice a change to your breast, talk to your doctor.
This holds true, even if you’ve had a normal mammogram that didn’t detect any problems or if you think you’re too young to get breast cancer. Women of all ages can get breast cancer.
Do breast cancer lumps or benign (noncancerous) breast lumps hurt?
Some breast lumps can be painful, yes. Most lumps caused by breast cancer are not painful. But cysts and/or normal lumpy breast tissue can sometimes cause pain without being cancerous.
If you’ve been having localized breast pain that doesn’t go away and you’re not sure what’s causing it, don’t wait too long to have it checked.
Are there other causes of breast lumps besides cancer?
Yes. Not all breast lumps are cancerous. Breast cysts and fibroadenomas are two common types of benign breast lumps that women experience.
Other conditions such as fat necrosis or infection can present themselves as lumps, too. This is why it’s important to talk with a doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your breast health.
Other changes to your breasts or nipples
If you have a new nipple inversion, new breast discharge that is clear or bloody, or skin changes such as flaking, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Can you have breast cancer with no visible symptoms?
Yes. Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer say they didn’t notice any symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screenings are so strongly advised.
We recommend women start the conversation about when to have annual screening mammograms at age 40. But depending on your breast cancer risk factors, overall health and personal preferences, you and your doctor can work together to decide whether screenings should begin earlier, later or at different intervals.
Have questions or concerns about your breast health? Don’t delay. Find answers fast.
Thanks in large part to earlier detection and advances in breast cancer staging and treatment, this disease is more survivable than ever. That’s a trend all of us can feel good about.
So if you’re due for screening, call to schedule a mammogram at one of our breast health centers in the Twin Cities. Oftentimes, we can offer same-day and next-day appointments.
If you have another breast health concern or are noticing any unusual symptoms, don’t ignore what you’re feeling. Make an appointment with a primary care doctor. Primary care doctors are experts in diagnosing and treating hundreds of conditions.