Breast cancer is characterized by a malignant tumor or tumors found in the tissue of the breast. It is the most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women exceeded only by lung cancer.
The majority of lumps found in the breast are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Benign breast lumps do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life-threatening.
All women are at risk for breast cancer. While men can also get the disease, it is nearly 100 times more common in women. A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases as she ages. Approximately eight out of 10 breast cancers are found in women over age 50.
Women may experience a wide range of lumpiness in their breasts. However, only a small percentage of lumps are malignant. If you are concerned about a lump or experience any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your provider:
- A portion of the skin on the breast or underarm swells and has an unusual appearance.
- Veins on the skin surface become more prominent on one breast.
- The breast nipple becomes inverted, develops a rash, changes in skin texture, or has a discharge other than breast milk.
- A depression is found in an area of the breast surface.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older have a screening mammogram every year and continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. If you are at increased risk for breast cancer, you should talk with your doctor about the benefits of starting mammography screening at an earlier age.
Get in the habit of performing a breast self exam once a month, and make sure you receive a clinical breast exam from your doctor at each annual visit. And exercise regularly—studies show that exercise reduces breast cancer risk.