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 preventive breast health a priority – like keeping up on routine preventive care check-ups and breast cancer screening mammograms, and performing your own breast awareness exams.

“Preventive care can help diagnose cancer and other health issues early, when treatment is more successful,” said Dr. Williams. “And all women should come up with a breast cancer screening plan that works for them.”

But 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 to watch for.

Breast cancer symptoms

Oftentimes, the earliest signs of breast cancer are discovered during a screening mammogram – before you felt or noticed any symptoms. And while experiencing certain symptoms doesn’t mean you have breast cancer, there are still several breast changes to keep an eye out for.

1. A lump in your breast or underarm

A lump (or lumps) in your breast or underarm is often the first noticeable sign of breast cancer. There could also be swelling in addition to, or instead of, the lump.

What does a breast lump feel like?

Most often, breast lumps feel hard, like a knot. But a lump may also feel like part of your breast has become thicker than the tissue around it.

Do breast cancer lumps or benign breast lumps hurt?

Some breast lumps can be painful, yes – although most don’t cause pain. If a lump does cause pain, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cancerous. Cysts and fibrocystic breasts (lumpy breast tissue) can sometimes cause pain without being cancerous.

If you’ve been having breast pain 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.

Questions or concerns about your breast health? We’re here for you.

Make an appointment

2. Changes in the size, shape or appearance of your breast

Your breasts change for completely normal reasons. Having your period, having children and aging can all influence how your breasts look and feel. But increases in breast size, and changes in breast shape and appearance – especially over a short period of time – should not be ignored.

When changes like these happen, it may look or feel like all or part of your breast has become swollen.

3. Changes in the contour or texture of the skin over your breast

Many women are surprised to learn that breast skin changes can be a sign of something happening beneath the surface. So, keep an eye out for these types of skin changes that could be a sign of breast cancer:

  • Dimpling or flat spots on the skin over your breast or nipple
  • Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange

4. Changes to your nipple

If your nipple hurts, turns inward, itches, burns or discharges a non-milk substance, it could be a sign of breast cancer.

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 that women consider starting annual screening mammograms at age 40. But depending on your 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 treatment options, 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 next-day and same-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.

Questions or concerns about your breast health? We’re here for you.

Make an appointment