New Research Shows More Than Half of Adults Don’t Know Common Breast Cancer Symptoms

When keeping an eye out for breast cancer symptoms, people are usually concerned about lumps. While finding one is a good reason to get yourself to a doctor, there are other common symptoms associated with the disease. If you weren’t aware of this, though, you’re not alone.

A survey recently conducted by The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC) found that of just over 1,000 respondents, 93% knew a lump was a symptom of breast cancer. However, when it came to other common symptoms, including breast puckering and nipple discharge, the figures were much lower. The researchers say this is a sign that there needs to be better awareness, so more cases are caught in a timely fashion.

Woman wearing sports bra

Dr. Ashley Pariser, breast medical oncologist at the OSUCCC, says, “Screening mammography is our No. 1 defense in detecting and addressing breast cancers at their earliest, most treatable stages, but it is also very important for people to be familiar with the look and feel of their own breast tissue so that sometimes subtle changes can be evaluated quickly to give us the best chance at early detection.

“We want people to feel empowered about their bodies and know what is normal for them. Many breast changes are the result of aging and childbirth; however, breast cancer can present in a number of ways.”

Among the ways it can present are a retracted, inverted, or downward-pointing nipple; breast puckering; loss of feeling in part of the breast; thickening of the breast skin; and nipple discharge. The survey asked respondents if they recognized these as symptoms of breast cancer.

Woman does self breast check

About half – 51% – said they knew nipple discharge was associated with breast cancer. Meanwhile, 45% recognized thickened breast skin as a symptom, loss of breast feeling was recognized by 41% of respondents as a sign of the disease, 39% were aware of breast puckering as a symptom, and 31% knew retracted, inverted, or downward-pointing nipples were associated with the disease.

Further questions delved into breast cancer screening and risk, finding confusion in these areas, too. A third of women said they were unsure of screening recommendations. This was especially true for women under 30.

Different organizations do have different recommendations on when to begin getting regular mammograms. However, earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated their guidelines to begin screening at 40. The researchers say the American College of Radiology and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists have the same recommendation.

Closeup of woman in shirt doing breast check

Most respondents were also unconcerned about developing the disease, with 75% of women and 91% of men saying they didn’t believe they would get it. Though rates in men are low – roughly one in 833 men are expected to develop the disease in their lifetime, compared with one in eight women – one of the common non-lump symptoms is often associated with the disease in men.

Dr. Pariser says, “These cancers typically present as nipple changes, so it is also important that men feel empowered to seek medical attention for concerning symptoms, especially if they have a strong family history of breast cancer.”

The researchers hope that with increased awareness of other symptoms and risk, more people will be comfortable addressing possible issues promptly with their doctors.

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