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Feeling a lump in the breast is one of the first signs of breast cancer. However, roughly 80 percent of these lumps end up benign. Still, feeling a lump in the breast isn’t necessarily normal. For this reason, have a physician check any lump you notice, especially if it is new, changing, or growing. For more on what kind of lump or breast changes to look for, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

A hard lump in the breast is one of the first signs of breast cancer women look for. But it’s not the only one. Other symptoms include swelling in or around your breast, armpit, and collarbone. Redness is another sign to watch for. As is thickened skin that feels or looks like an orange peel. Changes in the size or shape of your breast, itchiness, new inversion of the nipple, and localized pain are all worth mentioning to your physician. In short, any changes in the breast, whether as a lump or even a rash, are all worth being aware of and discussing with your physician.

Without medical testing, there is no way to know. Many cancerous lumps are painless, but other women do develop painful lumps when they have breast cancer. Benign lumps are normally cysts found inside the breast. They are round and smooth and may feel rubbery when you touch them. Despite these descriptions, the only way to accurately tell whether a lump is cancerous is to be checked by your physician.

About half of all breast cancers are discovered by the patient. Practicing breast awareness is 5the first screening method. Many women choose to do monthly self-exams as a means of maintaining awareness of what their normal looks like. For more information on how to do a breast self-exam, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

In terms of medical examinations, mammograms are the most common way to screen for breast cancer. Between the ages of 45 and 54, you should get a mammogram every year. After the age of 55, you can switch to getting mammograms every two years. Before the age of 45, you have the option of getting an annual mammogram based on your individual risk factors. If you are younger than 40, you can request a mammogram as needed.

You also have the option to screen for breast cancer through ultrasounds or a self-exam. These techniques are a bit easier. Yet they are less accurate when it comes to detecting breast cancer early on. A breast MRI may also be an option for women who want to avoid x-rays.

Other screening options include molecular breast imaging, positron emission mammography, and electrical impedance imaging. These techniques are newer and less tested, but they show promising potential and may be good alternatives if you have dense breasts.

Mammograms are capable of correctly identifying breast cancer in 87 percent of women. While this is a much better number than in the past, it does mean mammograms can be wrong sometimes. Sometimes an abnormal mass on a mammogram turns out to be benign in a biopsy. On the other hand, a mammogram may show a false negative. This means a woman with breast cancer could have a normal mammogram. If you feel concerned about a change in your breasts, despite a normal mammogram, speak with your physician.

Roughly 50 percent of women who have annual mammograms over 10 years will get a false positive. False positives are more likely during a woman’s first mammogram. This occurs because the radiologist has not yet established what your normal looks like and cannot determine whether a certain spot is a new or changing mass. False positives are also more likely if you have dense breasts or have had breast biopsies in the past. Furthermore, it you take estrogen or have breast cancer in your family you may be more likely to get false-positive results.

It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion when you feel uneasy about a diagnosis or treatment recommendation. Getting a second opinion can be hugely beneficial for your peace of mind. If you’re concerned you may have been diagnosed incorrectly or uncomfortable with the proposed treatment plan, check your test results with another physician.

Have questions we’ve not answered? Let us know.