Breast Cancer: Risks and Warning Signs

Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. The two main factors that influence your breast cancer risk are being a woman and getting older.

Other risk factors include:

  • Changes in breast cancer-related genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2)
  • Having your first menstrual period before age 12
  • Never giving birth, or being older when your first child is born
  • Starting menopause after age 55
  • Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone 
in menopause for more than five years
  • Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • A personal history of breast cancer, having dense breasts, or some other breast problems
  • A family history of breast cancer (parent, sibling, or child)
  • Getting radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Being overweight, especially after menopause


Some warning signs of breast cancer:

  • A new lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple
  • Pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
  • Pain in the breast

Other conditions can cause these symptoms. If you have any signs that worry you, call your doctor right away.

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