Risk Factors and Signs of Breast Cancer

You’ve just completed your monthly self breast exam, and you think you feel an unusual lump. Your first reaction might be one of fear. You might think that finding a lump automatically means that you have breast cancer, but it does not.

The only way to know if your lump is actually breast cancer is to get a diagnosis from a health care professional. If you cannot afford health insurance, you might be eligible for The HealthyWoman Program, which offers free breast and cervical cancer screenings to women in Pennsylvania.

Waiting for that doctor’s appointment, however, can be stressful. It might set your mind at ease to know risk factors and breast cancer symptoms, so that you can be prepared to discuss your concerns with your health care professional.

Before we list breast cancer symptoms, we want to remind you that not all lumps are cancerous. In fact, it is estimated that 8 out of 10 lumps found in breasts are benign. The lump you find might be a cyst or fatty tissue.

In order to help your doctor or medical professional diagnose your lump, you might want to consider the following:

Does a similar lump appear in both breasts?

If it does, this might be a good indication that your lump is not a tumor. Tumors usually appear only in one breast, and not symmetrically on both.

Does your lump move easily?

Cancerous lumps tend to be stubborn, and do not move easily.

Has your lump changed within the last month?

Hormone levels change based on your monthly cycle, and can affect the tissue in your breasts. Non-cancerous lumps might disappear or shrink depending on your hormone levels.

What is the shape of your lump?

Cancerous lumps tend to be irregularly shaped.

Even if you do not have any of these risk factors or symptoms of breast cancer, it is still recommended that you speak to a doctor if you have detected a lump in one of your breasts.


Risk Factors for Breast Cancer


A Family History of Breast Cancer

If an immediate (your mother or sister) or secondary (your aunt or cousin) blood relative has had breast cancer, you might be at greater risk of having it yourself. This is partly due to the genetics that can cause breast cancer.

Early Puberty

Studies have shown that women who had their first period before the age of 12 are at greater risk for breast cancer.

Late Menopause

Women who experience menopause in their late 50s have been shown to be at greater risk.

Certain Hormone Therapies

If you have been prescribed hormone therapy to ease the side effects of menopause, you might have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.


If you have a history of alcohol abuse, obesity or low physical activity, your risk for breast cancer increases.


If you have not had children, or have had children after 30, you might have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Certain studies also suggest that not breast-feeding also increases the risk of breast cancer.

Birth Control

Certain contraceptives increase the risk of breast cancer.


Breast Cancer Symptoms


Change in Size or Shape

It is normal for one breast to be larger than the other, but if you notice that your breasts are becoming drastically different in size or shape than usual, bring this to your doctor’s attention.

Changes in Skin Texture or Color

If the skin on your breasts appears to be dimpling (think of the skin of an orange), indented, scaly or flaky, this could be a symptom of breast cancer. Similarly, some women with breast cancer experience itchy skin on their chests.

Changes in the Nipple

There are two symptoms of breast cancer that concern the nipple. If the nipple has inverted, meaning if it is pressing into the breast, this could be an indication of breast cancer. Also, if the nipple has been discharging fluid (not breast milk), this could be a sign of the disease.

Tenderness, Pain and Swelling

While not common, some breast cancers do cause pain in the breasts. In addition, any tenderness or swelling of the breasts and/or lymph nodes that is not related to your monthly cycle or breast-feeding could be an indication of cancer.


Ready to Make that Appointment?


If you need help finding a medical provider, or paying for your breast or cervical cancer screening, The HealthyWoman Program may be able to help. Find out if you qualify!