Risk Factors/Signs and Symptoms

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Research is increasing regarding what we know about breast cancer. Scientists are learning more about its causes. The following are common risk factors for the breast cancer: 

  • Personal History of Breast Abnormalities - Two breast tissue abnormalities—ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) —are associated with increased risk. 

  • Age - The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. The majority of breast cancer cases occur in women older than age 50. 

  • Age at First Menstrual Period - Women who had their first menstrual period before age 12 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. 

  • Age at First Live Birth and Family History- Risk depends on age at first live birth and family history of breast cancer . Breast cancer among relatives (sisters, mother, daughters) increases a woman's chances of developing the disease. 

  • Breast Biopsies - Women who have had breast biopsies have an increased risk of breast cancer, especially if the biopsy showed a change in breast tissue, known as atypical hyperplasia. These women are not at risk because of the biopsies themselves, but, rather what prompted them initially. 

  • Race - White women have greater risk of developing breast cancer than black women. However, black women diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die of the disease. 

  • Alcohol - Studies have consistently found that moderate drinking has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. However, researchers stress that important questions remain unanswered, such as which women who drink are at greatest risk, and what biological mechanism(s) alcohol might trigger to cause breast cancer. 

  • Breast Density - Recently published research shows that a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer is also affected by breast density and whether she has used hormone therapy.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

The classic symptom for breast cancer is a lump found in the breast or armpit. Doing a monthly breast self-exam is a great way to be familiar with your breasts’ texture, cyclical changes, size, and skin condition. Don’t hesitate to see your doctor or nurse for a clinical breast exam if you have a question about a change in your breasts.

The following symptoms present themselves and may indicate cancer is developing in the breast:

  • Swelling or lump (mass) in the breast 

  • Swelling in the armpit (lymph nodes) 

  • Nipple discharge (clear or bloody) 

  • Pain in the nipple 

  • Inverted nipple and/or scaly or pitted skin on nipple 

  • Persistent tenderness of the breast 

  • Unusual breast pain or discomfort 

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

One type of breast cancer that does not appear in lumps is called Inflammatory Breast Cancer. This cancer grows in sheets instead of lumps, and it invades nearby skin, resembling a rash. It will not respond to topical creams or antibiotics, and should be treated very promptly. 

Symptoms of this type of cancer include a sudden increase in breast size (as much as a cup size in a few days), itching in the skin of the breast that is continuous and not relieved by pills or creams, breast is excessively warm to the touch, or harder or firmer than usual and a change in skin texture, similar to the skin of an orange.

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