Breast Cancer Warning Signs

Most people diagnosed have early stage breast cancer so it's important to be proactive.

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By Judi Ketteler, AOL Health

You've probably heard the statistics: Your chances of getting breast cancer over your entire lifetime are one in seven. From birth to age 39, you have a 1 in 231 chance; ages 40-59, a 1 in 25 chance, and a 1 in 15 chance between the ages of 60 -79. Here is another very important fact to keep in mind: "Most people diagnosed have early stage disease," says Marissa Weiss, M.D., president and founder of BreastCancer.org. That's why it's important to be proactive: Perform regular self-examinations and know the warning signs. Here are eight key warning signs of breast cancer.

Breast Lump
The most common warning sign is a lump or an area of stiffening that you feel or your doctor feels. "It will feel hard and irregular, like a stone. It feels different from the rest of the breast tissue," Weiss says. Keep in mind that eight out of 10 lumps turn out to be benign, Weiss says, so don't immediately go to panic mode. But DO get it checked out by your doctor right away.

Breast Appearance Changes
Our breasts are hormonally active; they are constantly changing, Weiss says. Get to know your breasts, so you can spot the difference between changes that occur relating to hormones and changes out of the ordinary. If you notice that the contour of your breast has changed, and become dimpled, twisted, or retracted, that's something to see your doctor about. Look also for bulges or concavities.

Nipple Inversion
A natural scaffolding of ligaments inside your breast helps to hold your nipple in place. A cancer—which has spidery "fingers"—can start to pull the tissue into itself, causing the nipple to retract and become inverted, Weiss says. Looking at your breast in the mirror should be a regular part of any self-exam; notice if your nipples look different—such as if one is pulled in a different direction, or if there is any type of unusual discharge.

Breast Inflammation
A symptom that can come up rather quickly is breast inflammation. If your breast suddenly feels swollen, has a pink-red color and the skin looks like orange peel, get it checked out immediately. "It could just be an infection," Weiss says (which would be treated with antibiotics). But, inflammatory breast cancer—which comprises about five percent of all diagnosed breast cancers—also appears this way.

Underarm Lump
There are lymph nodes under your arms that can also be affected by breast cancer. When you examine your breasts monthly, you should also feel under your arms for lumps.

Fatigue
Fatigue and loss of appetite are symptoms of later stage breast cancer, Weiss says. Of course, you can feel fatigued and run-down for a whole host of reasons, including not enough sleep. But if you have unusual fatigue and/or have back, hip or neck pain that you can't trace, don't delay in seeing your doctor.

Your Instinct
"Never discount your instinct," Weiss says. If you just have a sense that something is wrong or out of the ordinary with your breasts—even if you can't find a definite lump—go see your doctor and have it checked out with an exam and/or mammography.

Age and Genetics
Age and genetics are actually risk factors, not warning signs, but when it comes to breast cancer, the more proactive you are the better. Women who have a first-degree relative with breast cancer (mother, sister, daughter) should talk to their doctor about an early screening plan. If you don't have a first-degree relative and your family doesn't have generations of women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50, you should do monthly self-exams, get yearly breast exams and start getting mammograms at the age of 40.

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