Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it’s far more common in women.
Symptoms of breast tumors vary from person to person. Some common, early warning signs of breast cancer include:
- Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts
- An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
- Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- General pain in/on any part of the breast
- Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast
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Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer are:
- Irritated or itchy breasts
- Change in breast color
- Increase in breast size or shape (over a short period of time)
- Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
- Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
- A breast lump or thickening
- Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
Invasive breast cancer symptoms may include:
- A lump or mass in the breast
- Swelling of all or part of the breast, even if no lump is felt
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- The nipple or breast skin appears red, scaly, or thickened
- Nipple discharge
- A lump or swelling in the underarm lymph nodes
Doctors know that breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin to grow abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass. Cells may spread (metastasize) through your breast to your lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.
Aging: On average, women over 60 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Only about 10 percent to 15 percent of breast cancers occur in women younger than 45. However, this may vary for different races or ethnicities.
Gender: Although nearly 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year, breast cancer is 100 times more common in women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 190,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer annually.
Obesity: After menopause, fat tissue may contribute to increases in estrogen levels, and high levels of estrogen may increase the risk of breast cancer. Weight gain during adulthood and excess body fat around the waist may also play a role.
Not having children: Women who have had no children, or who were pregnant later in life (over age 35) may have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Breastfeeding may help to lower your breast cancer risks.
High breast density: Women with less fatty tissue and more glandular and fibrous tissue may be at higher risk for developing breast cancer than women with less dense breasts.
Certain breast changes: Certain benign (noncancerous) breast conditions may increase breast cancer risk.
Menstrual history: Women who start menstruation at an early age (before age 12) and/or menopause at an older age (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. The increase in risk may be due to a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
A sedentary lifestyle: Physical activity in the form of regular exercise for four to seven hours a week may help to reduce breast cancer risk.
Heavy drinking: The use of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.
Genetics & family history
Family history: Having a family history of breast cancer, particularly women with a mother, sister or daughter who has or had breast cancer, may double the risk.
Inherited factors: Some inherited genetic mutations may increase your breast cancer risks. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common inherited causes. Other rare mutations may also make some women more susceptible to developing breast cancer. Genetic testing reveals the presence of potential genetic problems, particularly in families that have a history of breast cancer.
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