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Cancer Causes Control. 2015 May;26(5):733-40. doi: 10.1007/s10552-015-0544-1. Epub 2015 Mar 10.

Reported breast symptoms in the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

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Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Highway NE, F-76, Atlanta, GA, 30341, USA,



The frequency and types of breast symptoms reported by women in the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) have never been characterized. This study aims to establish the frequency of reported symptoms and the diagnostic outcomes associated with reported symptoms.


We examined the frequency of symptoms reported prior to mammography using medical record abstraction data from women in the NBCCEDP. We also calculated adjusted odds ratios (aOR) of having an abnormal mammogram, an abnormal clinical breast examination, or a final diagnosis of breast cancer by symptoms, compared to asymptomatic women.


In our sample of women, 10.3 % reported at least one symptom. Women with symptoms were younger and more likely to be non-Hispanic white. Among those reporting symptoms, breast lump (31.7 %) and pain or tenderness (49.3 %) was most common. A relatively low proportion of women with symptoms were diagnosed with in situ (0.9 %) or invasive breast cancer (4.3 %). However, a self-reported breast lump [aOR 13.7; 95 % confidence interval (CI) 7.8-24.1], inflammation or changes to the skin/nipple (aOR 27.8; 95 % CI 8.7-88.8), and other or unspecified symptoms (aOR 3.4; 95 % CI 2.1-7.5) were associated with an increased risk of invasive breast cancer.


Although the prevalence of breast cancer among women reporting symptoms is relatively low, knowing which symptoms carry the highest breast cancer risk is important to assist in appropriate diagnostic workup.

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