Breast Symptoms to Take Seriously

Once you're familiar with your own breasts, you'll probably be the first to notice if something doesn't look right or feel right. See your doctor if you experience any of the following.

Nipple discharge. Most nipple discharge is normal. It can be caused by breastfeeding, compression, certain medications, or even chafing from a bra. But it can also signal an infection, hypothyroidism, or cancer. If the discharge is bloody, in one breast only, occurs without touching the breast, or is accompanied by a lump, your doctor may order tests to pinpoint the cause.

Change in nipple color. This is common when your hormones fluctuate during your menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and perimenopause. If you're not going through a hormonal shift, and your nipples itch or change color, your symptoms could signal a problem that needs medical care.

Breast lumps. Breast lumps are common, especially if you're between 30 and 50 years old. Most are harmless, and come and go with menstruation. Symptoms that can signal a problem include a lump that's hard, irregular in shape, has a pebbly surface, or feels different than the rest of the breast. New or unusual lumps will need to be evaluated by your health care practitioner.

Fibrocystic breast changes. It's not unusual for your breasts to feel lumpy, swollen, and tender before menstruation. These changes, called fibrocystic breast changes, are normal and usually occur in women of childbearing age. Having fibrocystic breasts can make it harder to identify a worrisome lump during breast self-exams.

Know Your Risk Factors

Knowing your personal and family health history can help you determine your risk for developing breast cancer. Factors to consider include:

  • Whether you have family members who have had breast cancer.
  • If you had radiation of your chest at an early age.
  • If you've had previous breast or ovarian cancer.

Starting at age 25, we recommend that you share your personal and family history with your doctor to see if you're at high risk. Inheriting certain genes can increase your risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer, often at a younger age. Refer to our risk chart to see whether you should consider genetic testing.


What to Expect During Breast Exams