• Expert Alert: Awareness key to recognizing breast cancer symptoms

woman wearing a pink strapless shirt doing a breast self-exam

ROCHESTER, Minn. — October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a great time to spread the word about the importance breast cancer screening and being alert to breast changes. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women in the U.S.

Importance of breast cancer screening

While most breast cancer screening guidelines recommend routine screening for women, beginning at age 40 — and younger in women with a family history of breast cancer — Deborah Rhodes, M.D., an internal medicine physician in the Breast Diagnostic Clinic at Mayo Clinic , says that women of all ages should be aware of changes in their breasts and seek medical advice if they notice anything unusual.

Breast awareness

Dr. Rhodes says even young women, including those without a family history of breast cancer, should never ignore changes in the appearance or feel of their breasts, such as:

  • A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
  • A change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
  • Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • Bloody nipple discharge
  • Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over the breast, similar to the skin of an orange

Young breast cancer patients may experience more advanced cancers

Judy Boughey, M.D., a Mayo Clinic breast surgeon, recently conducted a study of more than 46,000 women ages 15–49. This study found that while adolescents and young women account for less than 2% of breast cancer patients, they tended to be diagnosed with more advanced breast cancer and more aggressive tumor biology, including triple-negative and HER2-positive breast cancers.

"Our study found that very young women, ages 15–29 years, experienced more advanced disease than women ages 30–39 years, so it's very important that these women take note of any changes in their breasts and discuss those changes with their physician," says Dr. Boughey.

Dr. Rhodes and Dr. Boughey are available for interviews.


About Mayo Clinic
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