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The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer You Need to Know

A lump in your breast might be the most known warning sign of cancer, but it certainly isn’t the only one.
Woman examining her breast for lumps

Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer is lifesaving information. We sat down with breast surgery specialist Dr. Kahyun Yoon-Flannery during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to learn more about the warning signs for breast cancer, how to lower your risk and what to do if you are diagnosed.

What are some warning signs that I may have breast cancer?
If you experience skin changes, bloody nipple discharge, or see/feel a hard, palpable lump that does not move or change, this should alert you to be examined by a physician. Lumps that present in your armpits should also be examined.

If I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, my risk is low, right?
Family history is only one risk factor. The truth is, most patients with breast cancer actually have no family history of breast cancer. Older age, increased alcohol intake, increased estrogen use, and obesity are just a few other risk factors we know to be associated with breast cancer.

Are there ways I can lower my risk?
Leading a healthy lifestyle, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy weight can all lower breast cancer risk.

When should I have a mammogram?
The general recommendation for your first annual mammography is age 40, unless there is a family history of premenopausal breast cancer. For these individuals, the general recommendation is to start mammography screening 10 years before the age of earliest diagnosis.

Headshot of Dr. Yoon-Flannery

Dr. Yoon-Flannery is a breast surgeon at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Washington Township, NJ.

I think I might have breast cancer; what should I do?
Try not to panic. Instead, take a deep breath. You are just in the discovery phase. You should call your physician to set up a clinical breast exam, followed by appropriate diagnostic breast imaging.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?
We are able to detect breast cancer primarily via mammography. We are also prompted to obtain imaging from changes in a clinical breast exam, which is why it’s important to obtain both breast screening studies and get checked on a regular basis.

How is breast cancer treated?
There are many methods to treating breast cancer, which is why it is important to have a multidisciplinary team. These methods may include surgery, systemic therapy, chemotherapy, anti-estrogen therapy, and radiation therapy.

What advice can you offer for someone coping with a breast cancer diagnosis?
Keep in mind that breast cancer treatment has advanced significantly. There are many treatments that are new and still evolving. Let your breast surgeon know of your concerns, so he/she can direct you to additional support, such as nurse navigation and social work.

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