Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Recognize the Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
Early detection is key to preventing many diseases — including many forms of cancer. While cancer often has devastating and fatal consequences, recognizing the warning signs early on can mean the difference between life and death. Breast cancer is no exception. Though a breast cancer diagnosis can be understandably scary, spotting the early signs can result in a more positive outcome. Learn more about breast cancer, the symptoms and signs, and what you can do to minimize the risk.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in American women except for skin cancers, accounting for roughly 30% of new cancer diagnoses every year. The American Cancer Society estimates 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2022. Furthermore, 43,250 deaths are estimated by the end of 2022, making it the second-most deadly form of cancer in women behind lung cancer.
Breast cancer occurs mostly in middle-aged and older women with a median age of 62 years old, although a small number of women younger than 45 are sometimes diagnosed. The average risk of an American woman developing breast cancer in her lifetime is about 13%, or a 1 in 8 chance.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast. Women should be familiar with their bodies and know when something feels wrong. The American Cancer Society reports painless lumps with irregular edges are more likely cancer, though cancerous irregularities can also be soft, round, smooth, and painful.
Other breast cancer symptoms can include:
- Swelling of all or part of the breast
- Dimpled skin like an orange peel
- Pain in the nipple or breast
- Nipple retraction (pointing inward)
- Red, dry, flaking, or thickened nipple or breast skin
- Discharge from nipple other than breastmilk
- Swollen lymph nodes
Recognizing the warning signs early on can save your life. This means scheduling regular screenings to catch minor issues before they become serious complications. A mammogram, or a low-dose X-ray of the breast, can detect possible cancers years before physical symptoms start. In fact, studies have shown women who receive regular mammograms are less likely to need more aggressive treatment later, such as chemotherapy or mastectomies. Other screenings include breast MRIs and clinical or self-exams.
Women ages 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year. Women ages 45-54 should schedule annual mammograms, and women ages 55 and older may switch to receiving a mammogram every other year, though they may also continue annual screenings if they wish. Screening should continue for older women who are in good health and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
Additionally, women at high risk should be screened every year beginning at age 30. According to the American Cancer Society, high-risk women include those who have any of the following conditions:
- Lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20-25% or greater according to family history
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- First-degree relative (i.e., parent, sibling, or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- Had radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10-30
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes