Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer (excluding skin cancers) in women, accounting for nearly one out of every three forms of cancer diagnosed in America. That's why early detection of cancer and a healthy breast lifestyle is so important.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer death rates are going down. This could be the result of finding cancer earlier and improved treatments. Right now, there are about 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.


There are often no symptoms in the early stages of breast cancer when it is small and has not spread.

You may not have any pain or notice any changes due to cancer. That is why routine screening tests, such as mammograms, are essential. They are often able to detect the disease in its early stages before symptoms occur.

As breast cancer grows, it can cause signs and symptoms such as: 

  • A lump, thickening or swelling in or near your breast or under your arm
  • A change in the size or shape of your breast
  • Nipple discharge that's often bloody and only in one breast
  • Nipple inversion – the nipple pulls back into your breast
  • Nipple or breast pain, tenderness or aching
  • A change in the look of the breast, areola or nipple, such as becoming dimpled or puckered or turning red or purple
  • A change in the feel of the skin, areola or nipple, such as turning itchy or scaly


A screening mammogram  is an X-ray of the breast. Usually, two or three views (pictures) are taken of each breast.

Advances in mammography are credited with detecting 80% to 90% of breast cancers in women without symptoms.

Although detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages is the primary goal, screening can also reveal benign conditions, such as fibrocystic breasts. 

The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines:

  • Women with an average risk of breast cancer should undergo regular screening mammography starting at age 45.
  • Women aged 45 to 54 years should be screened annually.
  • Women 55 years and older can choose to have a mammogram every other year.
  • Screenings can begin as early as age 40. It is a woman's personal choice.
  • Women should continue screening mammography as long as their overall health is good and have a life expectancy of 10 years or longer.

You should know how your breasts normally feel and promptly report any breast change to your primary care provider.

Comprehensive Care

OSF HealthCare offers a full range of diagnostic tests and treatment options, including:

Are You at Risk for Breast Cancer?

Learn your 5-year and lifetime risk of breast cancer using our free breast cancer risk assessment tool.

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