After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. While those statistics certainly sound scary, you are not completely without control. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you won’t get breast cancer. However, you can be proactive at detecting it in its earliest stages when treatment is more likely to offer a better outcome–and it starts with increasing your awareness regarding the signs and symptoms of the disease.

By now you might be wondering what it is that you can do. First and foremost, get in touch with your breasts. Literally. Why? Because the most common sign of breast cancer is a painless lump or mass.

Typically, lumps are hard to the touch and uneven along the edges, although in some cases, they are soft and rounded. While finding a lump can be unsettling, it’s important to remember that not all lumps are cancerous. However, it is always a good idea to have it evaluated by your primary care physician or gynecologist. Finding out as quickly as possible can ease your mind. And if it is cancer, you’ll be that much closer to recovery.

There are several other warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer that are worth paying attention to as well. If you notice one or more of these or anything out of the ordinary, we at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers urge you to schedule an appointment as soon as possible with your doctor.

Common Signs & Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Other common signs and symptoms that could indicate breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of the breast (even if no lump is present)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Skin irritation or itchiness
  • Skin dimpling (may resemble an orange peel)
  • Discharge from nipple, other than breast milk
  • Breast pain
  • Change in breast size or shape
  • Nipple pain or a newly inverted nipple
  • A lump in the underarm or collarbone area

What’s Considered Normal?

Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, with each set being as unique as you are. In other words, what’s normal for you may not be normal for another woman. And while it’s certainly important to have an understanding of the red flags that could indicate breast cancer, it’s equally important to understand the normal breast changes that simply come with being a woman.

A common time to experience breast changes is during your menstrual cycle. You may notice that your breasts feel tender, heavy, and in some cases, painful. If you experience these feelings in both breasts and are menstruating or about to begin your cycle, these symptoms are most likely the result of normal, monthly hormonal changes in your body.

Other factors that can contribute to normal breast changes include pregnancy, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age. Still, it never hurts to talk with your doctor about any changes in your breast tissue.

When to Visit the Doctor

It can be hard to know when it’s the right time to see a doctor. If you are experiencing any of the abnormal symptoms mentioned above, the right time is now. Early detection is key, therefore it’s important to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician (PCP) or gynecologist immediately. It’s also a good idea to plan for regularly scheduled screening mammograms once you turn 40, or earlier if breast cancer runs in your family. Your PCP or gynecologist can help determine a mammogram schedule that’s right for you.

The good news is that mammograms are known to be 87% accurate in detecting breast cancer. If your mammogram does detect a suspicious mass, it’s likely you’ll need further evaluation so a diagnosis can be made. Again, early detection is key – so your doctor does find breast cancer during a routine visit, you can expect a better outcome.

The earlier cancer treatment begins, the better patient outcomes usually are. Therefore, our breast cancer care team urges you to maintain a regular breast exam schedule with your PCP or gynecologist. Or, if you notice any changes or lumps, it’s important to speak with your doctor about those changes immediately.