How is breast cancer diagnosed?

An estimated 12 percent of U.S. women are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. It's the second most common cancer in women. While rare, breast cancer can also occur in men.

The primary way to find breast cancer is through breast cancer screening exams such as monthly self-exams and mammograms.

With a physician prescription, you can schedule a mammogram at any of the three Phoenix-area locations of the HonorHealth Breast Health and Research Center or in the East Valley, Scottsdale Medical Imaging. You can make an appointment at a Scottsdale Medical Imaging location by calling 480-425-5030.

If a mammogram detects a suspicious area, a follow-up ultrasound can help determine if a mass is cancerous or benign. A biopsy will produce a tissue sample for examination by a pathologist. An MRI may be another follow-up test used by HonorHealth experts to reach a diagnosis and help with a personalized treatment plan.

Your HonorHealth navigator will answer questions and offer advice as you move through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Primary signs and symptoms

What are the primary signs and symptoms of breast cancer? The early and most common signs are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in how the nipple looks or feels, and/or nipple discharge.

During your monthly self-exam, feel for a lump and also for changes that might be subtle. Here's what to look for if you find a lump:

  • Smooth or jagged edges
  • Firm or squishy feel
  • The size and overall shape
  • The date you first noticed it
  • Any tenderness or discomfort in your armpits

Also look for other possible signs of breast cancer:

  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Inversion of the nipple – the nipple turning inward
  • Red, scaly, itchy skin that resembles the texture of an orange
  • Skin that's hot to the touch
  • Discharge from the nipple

If you find any of these signs and symptoms, please tell your doctor.

Breast cancer types

There are many types of breast cancer, and HonorHealth physicians treat them all. Among them are:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • Paget disease of the nipple
  • Phyllodes tumor
  • Angiosarcoma
  • Invasive breast carcinoma

Causes and risk factors

Commonly identified risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Age: Most breast cancers occur in women over 50
  • Sex: Breast cancer affects women 100 times more often than men
  • Family history: Cases of breast cancer in your family, especially someone who had breast cancer before 40. This includes men
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Menstruating at an early age
  • Starting menopause after age 55
  • Being overweight
  • Late pregnancy or never being pregnant
  • Having dense breasts
  • Use of oral contraceptives
  • Alcohol use: The more you drink, the greater your risk