Breast Cancer Symptoms and Risks
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women after skin cancer. Learning the facts and risk factors, such as genetics and family history, associated with breast cancer lets you take a proactive approach to understanding your risk for developing the disease:
- Have your physician perform an annual clinical breast exam
- Talk with your doctor to gain breast self-awareness and determine the most appropriate ongoing care
- Learn about the different breast cancer screening tools and what is right for you
- Talk with the women and men in your life about regular breast care
At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, we find early-stage breast cancer at a rate that exceeds the national benchmark. Our breast cancer specialists are nationally recognized leaders in the field. As a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, we take an aggressive approach to breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. This means we apply the same level of expertise to identify breast cancer as we do during breast cancer treatment.
Breast cancer symptoms
The most common symptom people associate with breast cancer is finding a lump in your breast or underarm. Typically painless, lumps are often visible during a mammogram even before you can feel them.
Other breast cancer symptoms include:
- Breast swelling, even without a distinct lump
- Changes in breast size or shape
- Changes in breast skin texture or appearance
- Changes in nipple appearance, such as turning inward, reddening or flaky skin
- Nipple pain or discharge
- Pain in any area of the breast
These signs are not always due to breast cancer, so be sure to follow up with your doctor. Often breast cancer has no symptoms, especially in its earliest stages. Different types of breast cancer can have different symptoms as well.
Most instances of breast cancer are found by women during their normal daily routine, like while getting dressed or taking a shower. It’s important to be familiar with the way your breasts look and feel, including any typical changes that occur during your monthly cycle. This helps you notice any unusual changes in breast appearance sooner.
For those who are diagnosed, early detection provides the best outcomes and saves lives. Nearly 99% of women with stage 1 breast cancer survive 5 years or more. With the right technology and the right imaging experts, breast cancer is detectable even at its earliest stage, when it’s 99% curable. That’s why we encourage you to take an active role in your breast health and make time for your annual mammogram.
Breast cancer risk factors
Your risk for breast cancer can change over time due to factors such as aging or lifestyle. Simply being female is the primary risk factor for developing breast cancer. Other risk factors include:
- Inherited genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Starting your menstrual cycle before age 12
- Personal history of breast cancer
- Race and ethnicity
- Density of breast tissue
- History of fibroids or other benign breast conditions
Lifestyle factors that may increase your chances of developing breast cancer include:
- Never having children
- Giving birth for the first time after age 35
- Use of oral contraceptives
- Alcohol consumption
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
If you or your doctor thinks you are at high risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer, our breast cancer prevention specialists will create a personalized program to estimate your risk as accurately as possible and work with you and your cancer care team to lower your risk as much as possible.