The who, what, where, and sometimes, why. 

Making sense of the complex world of breast cancer can be overwhelming. Whether you are facing a personal diagnosis or that of a friend or loved one, there are many steps you can take to help you better understand the many faces of this disease. Learn about your personal risk and ways to take an active role in your breast health. Read about being a survivor, or offering support to a breast cancer survivor. Find local resources available to assist you. Becoming informed and empowered is the first step in battling this disease.

Click here to use our interactive tutorial to better understand the development of breast cancer, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options.

About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a type of cancer where cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without normal control. It is a widespread and random disease, striking women and men of all ages and races. It is the most prevalent cancer in the world today, with about 1.3 million people diagnosed annually. The exact cause of the disease is unknown, and at this time, there is no cure.

But there is hope. Thanks to heightened awareness, early detection through screening, improved treatment methods and increased access to breast health services, people have a greater chance of survival than ever before.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure national website, komen.org, offers comprehensive information about breast cancer risk factors, early detection and screening, diagnosis and treatment. Developed in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health, the site offers a one-stop resource for all the latest information on the disease.

Warning Signs of Breast Cancer

Due to the increased use of mammography, most women in the United States are diagnosed at an early stage of breast cancer, before symptoms appear. However, not all breast cancers are found through mammography. The most common symptoms of breast cancer are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge. Warning signs you should be aware of are listed below:

1 - Warning signs -lump2 - Warning signs - swelling3 - Warning signs - change in size or shape4 - Warning signs - dimpling or puckering

5 - Warning signs - nipple rash6-pulling in of nipple7 - Warning signs - nipple discharge8 - Warning signs - pain

If you have any of these symptoms, see your health care provider. In most cases, these changes are not cancer. For example, breast pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is to see your provider. If breast cancer is present, it is best to find it at an early stage, when the cancer is most treatable.

Breast lumps or lumpiness

Many women may find that their breasts feel lumpy. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. For some women, the lumpiness is more pronounced than for others. In most cases, this lumpiness is no cause to worry.

If the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it is probably normal breast tissue. Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast) or that feel like a change are a concern. When this type of lump is found, it may be a sign of breast cancer or a benign breast condition (such as a cyst or fibroadenoma). Learn more about benign breast conditions.

See your health care provider if:

  • You find a new lump or any change that feels different from the rest of your breast.
  • You find a new lump or any change that feels different from your other breast.
  • Feel something that is different from what you felt before.

If you are unsure whether you should have a lump checked, it is best to see your provider. Although a lump may be nothing to worry about, you will have the peace of mind that it has been checked.

Nipple discharge

Liquid leaking from your nipple (nipple discharge) can be troubling, but it is rarely a sign of cancer. Discharge can be your body’s natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed. Signs of a more serious condition, such as breast cancer, include:

  • Discharge that occurs without squeezing the nipple
  • Discharge that occurs in only one breast
  • Discharge that has blood in it or is clear (not milky)

Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or another condition that needs medical treatment. For these reasons, if you have any nipple discharge, see your health care provider.