Breast Cancer

Breast cancer signs include a lump or thickening in the breast or under the arm, a change in the size or shape of the breast, discharge from the nipple or a change in the color or feel of the skin of the breast or areola. Early diagnosis improves a woman's chances for complete recovery.

Risk Factors

  • Alcohol — Some studies suggest a slightly higher risk of breast cancer among women who drink alcohol.
  • Breast Density — Breasts that have a high proportion of lobular and ductal tissue appear dense on mammograms. Breast cancers nearly always develop in lobular or ductal tissue rather than fatty tissue.
  • Certain Breast Changes — Having a diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ may increase a woman's risk for developing breast cancer.
  • Estrogen — The risk is increased for women who began menstruation before age 12, experienced menopause late (after age 55), never had children or took hormone replacement therapy for long periods of time.
  • Family History — A woman's risk for developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister or daughter had breast cancer, especially at a young age.
  • Genetic Alterations — Changes in certain genes increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Late Childbearing — Women who have their first child after the age of 30 have a greater chance of developing breast cancer than women who have a child at a younger age.
  • Personal History of Breast Cancer — Women who have had breast cancer have an increased risk of getting breast cancer in their other breast.
  • Radiation Therapy — Women whose breasts were exposed to radiation during radiation therapy before age 30, especially those who were treated for Hodgkin's disease, are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer later in life.


Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. However, as the cancer grows, it can cause changes that women should watch for:

  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Nipple discharge or tenderness or the nipple pulled back (inverted) into the breast
  • Ridges or pitting of the breast (the skin looks like the skin of an orange)
  • A change in the way the skin of the breast, areola or nipple looks or feels (warm, swollen, red or scaly)

You should see your physician about any of these symptoms so any problem can be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.


Your physician will conduct a thorough physical exam and may perform one or more of the following tests:

  • Clinical Breast Exam — The doctor can determine a lot about a lump by feeling it and the tissue around it. Benign lumps often feel different than cancerous ones.
  • Mammography — X-rays of the breast can give the doctor important information about a breast lump.
  • Ultrasonography — Using high-frequency sound waves, ultrasonography can often show whether a lump is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass.

Source: National Cancer Institute