Symptoms and Causes

Although the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, researchers believe gene mutations, hormonal changes or environmental factors can cause cancer. Familial cancers account for approximately 10% of breast cancers. Tumour suppressor genes such as BRCA1, and BRCA2 are normally present in our body, whose function is to slow down cell division, repair DNA mistakes or tell cells when to die. Alterations or mutations in these genes, fail to fix the errors in the cell’s DNA and begin to grow and divide abnormally, thereby leading to breast cancer.

Additionally, there are certain environmental and hormonal factors that gradually increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer. These risk factors could either be modifiable or non-modifiable:

Non-modifiable risk factors include:

  • Age: The risk of breast cancer is more in women aged over 50 years. However, in India, the average age of diagnosis if between 40-49 years.
  • Family history: The risk of breast cancer in a woman is high if her mother, sister, or daughter, or relatives either on her maternal or paternal side had a history of breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Genetics: A woman with inherited mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is at an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Breast density: Dense breast comprises of more connective tissue than fatty tissue. Because of this reason, the identification of tumours on a mammogram is difficult. Thus, it increases the chance of breast cancer.
  • Personal history of breast cancer: The chance of recurrence of breast cancer is higher in women with a history of breast cancer.
  • History of radiation therapy: Women who underwent radiation therapy to the chest or breast before the age of 30 years are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Alcohol consumption: Consumption of alcohol is linked with increased levels of oestrogen. Oestrogen is a natural female hormone, which instructs the breast cells to grow in an uncontrolled way.
  • Obesity: Having more body fat increases the levels of oestrogen, which increases the chance of breast cancer.
  • Diet- A diet rich in fat, unsaturated fatty oils, cholesterol, low in vitamins, greens etc increase the risk of breast cancer. Having a good wholesome diet is essential for lowering the risk.
  • Sedentary lifestyles: Sitting for too long or doing very minimal physical activity increases breast cancer risk.
  • Pregnancy: Getting pregnant after the age of 30 years or never having a full-term pregnancy can raise the risk.
  • Smoking: According to some studies, smoking increases the risk of breast cancer by 21%.
  • Taking hormonal medications: Using hormone replacement therapy during menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. Consuming oral contraceptive pills for long periods of time increases the risk in certain patients.


Not all patients with breast cancer have the same symptoms. In some cases, the person may not have any warning signs. However, in some cases breast cancer may cause the following signs and symptoms:

Patient Resources

Breast Cancer

Modifiable risk factors include:

Types of Breast Cancer


Diagnosis and Treatment

Myths and Facts

A lump in the breast or underarm that does not go away could be the first sign of breast cancer

Swelling in the armpit or near the collarbone, usually caused when breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes

A soft and painless lump, which sometimes cause a prickling sensation


Change in skin colour and texture near the nipple

A flat or inverted nipple

A noticeable change in breast size, texture, and shape


Unusual nipple discharge, could be clear, bloody, brownish or another colour


Change in skin colour and texture near the nipple

Having these symptoms does not always indicate breast cancer, they can also occur due to any other conditions. However, if you are noticing any of these signs or symptoms consult a doctor immediately.