Can Teenagers Get Breast Cancer?

What to Know About Breast Hardness Changes in Puberty and Cancer Risk

Breast cancer in females younger than 20 years old is extremely rare. It only occurs at a rate of 0.1%, which means that for every 1 million teens, there is only one case of breast cancer.

Lumps in teenage breast tissue can be from breast development, hormone shifts from your menstrual cycle, or noncancerous breast changes. 

This article reviews breast development, menstrual cycle breast changes, breast cancer myths, noncancerous breast changes, causes of breast cancer, and breast exams. 

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Puberty and Overlapping Breast Cancer Symptoms 

During puberty, your brain releases particular hormones that cause breast development and eventually a menstrual period.

Normal Breast Development

Breast buds are raised bumps under the nipple. They are the first sign of breast development and usually appear between the ages of 7 and 13. Breast buds may feel hard at first but soften over time.

It’s normal and common to feel lumpiness or tenderness in your breasts as they develop and grow.

Breast size and shape are unique for everyone. Most people have one breast that is slightly larger than the other.

Menstrual Cycle Changes

Female hormones go up and down during your monthly menstrual cycle. This hormonal fluctuation can cause the breasts to feel lumpy, tender, or heavy, especially during the week leading up to your period. 

Average Age of First Menstrual Cycle

While this is just an average, most girls start their period about two years after breast buds develop.

Breast Cancer Misconceptions

The Internet is full of misconceptions about breast cancer. Be critical about the information you get from the internet. Ensure the source is credible and uses current scientific research. 

The following do not increase breast cancer risk:

  • Injury to the breast
  • Nipple piercing.
  • Underwire bras

Can Cell Phones or Deodorants Cause Cancer?

There is not enough scientific evidence to say that cell phones, deodorants, or antiperspirants cause cancer, and more research is needed. This could mean there are not enough studies or data, the outcomes of the studies are conflicting, or there are limitations within existing studies. 

Other Teenage Breast Changes

Fibroadenomas and fibrocystic breasts are common reasons for benign (noncancerous) lumps in teens. 

  • Fibroadenomas are firm or rubbery, round, moveable lumps that can grow to several inches. They are usually in the upper and outer part of the breast and do not usually cause soreness or changes in the nipple or skin.
  • Fibrocystic breast changes occur when breast tissue thickens. It may feel lumpy and can lead to harmless, fluid-filled cysts that come and go, especially around your period. 

What to Do If You Have a Lump

If you have a lump that causes discomfort or worries you, talk to your parent or guardian, healthcare provider, or school nurse. Medical treatment is usually only needed if it causes pain or extreme anxiety.

Breasts and Birth Control

Studies show an 8%–24% increase in the risk of breast cancer for those taking hormonal birth control. However, the baseline cancer risk for teenagers is very low, and the difference in risk of developing cancer in teenagers who do take birth control vs. those who do not is small.

Risk varies with age and is less for younger women. Research shows one additional case of cancer for every 50,000 women who use hormonal contraception.

Typical Breast Cancer Age

While breast cancer can occur in younger women, most is found in women 50 years and older. 

Symptoms to Look For

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have the following symptoms in your breasts:

  • A nipple that turns inward
  • Hard lumps (except breast buds)
  • Lumps that don’t move easily or go away
  • Nipple discharge (if not pregnant or breastfeeding)
  • Pain not related to a period
  • Skin changes (redness, swelling, dry or flaky, thick, itchy rash, or puckering)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone
  • Unexplained change in size or shape

Is Breast or Nipple Pain a Symptom of Breast Cancer?

While breast pain often makes us think of breast cancer, it is extremely rare for breast cancer to cause breast or nipple pain.

Causes of Breast Cancer 

Because there are so few breast cancer cases in teenagers, there is not much research about the cause. However, the following are known risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Being a woman
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Getting older 
  • Mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Previous radiation treatment

When You’ve Watched Your Loved One Battle Breast Cancer

If you’ve watched someone you love go through breast cancer, you may feel scared, angry, guilty, neglected, embarrassed, or concerned about your risk of getting breast cancer. 

These feelings are normal, and there is no right way to feel. It is good to express those feelings by talking to a trusted family member, counselor, or support group. It can also help to write them in a journal. 

Treatment At a Glance 

Treatment for breast cancer may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy includes medications used to kill cancer cells. 
  • Medication: Medications other than chemotherapy may be given depending on the type of cancer. These medications include hormones, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and more.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy uses ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells. 
  • Surgery: Surgery options vary depending on the cancer stage (amount of cancer and whether it has spread) and location. They may include a lumpectomy, mastectomy, and breast reconstruction

When to Start Breast Examinations 

Breast self-exams are not recommended until you are in your 20s. However, it is good to familiarize yourself with your breasts to know what is normal for you. 

You can do this by lying down and lightly touching your breasts with your fingertips. Take note of texture, softness or hardness, lumpiness, tenderness, or anything else you feel.

When looking in the mirror, note your breasts' size, shape, and color. Watch for any changes in the skin or nipples.

The Way Your Breasts Feel Can Change

Keep in mind your breasts are still developing and can change. They may also feel different during different times of your menstrual cycle. 

Clinical Breast Exams

It’s rare for teenagers to need clinical breast exams. However, if you are at high risk or have symptoms, your healthcare provider may perform one. 

During a clinical breast exam, your healthcare provider will have you lie on your back and lightly press around the breast tissue, examining them for lumps or cysts. 

Ask for a Female Healthcare Provider if Needed

It’s always OK to ask for a female provider or chaperone if that would make you feel more comfortable. 

Mammograms

Mammograms are not recommended for women under 40 unless they are at high risk or have symptoms. They are not usually recommended for teenagers because:

  • It’s best not to expose adolescents to radiation unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Teenage breast tissue is dense (this limits the sensitivity of mammograms).
  • Teens are at very low risk of breast cancer.

If a teenager does have signs or symptoms of breast cancer, an ultrasound usually is the preferred imaging test.

Family History of Cancer

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have a family history of cancer. Breast cancer screening or genetic testing usually are not recommended until you are over age 18. However, they should know about your family history of breast cancer now so you can make a plan together. 

Summary

Breast cancer in female teenagers is very rare. Lumps in teenage breast tissue are usually harmless and caused by breast development or hormone shifts. While breast self-exams and clinical breast exams are not necessary for teenagers, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with your breasts. Keep in mind that as breasts develop, they change and can feel lumpy, sore, heavy, or tender. They also change during your menstrual cycle. 

A Word From Verywell

Breast buds, lumpy breast tissue, or pain can cause teenagers to worry about breast cancer. These feelings are normal, but remember that teenage breast cancer is very rare. Changes usually are due to breast development or your menstrual cycle. Talk to a trusted family member or school nurse if you find something that worries you. You can also call your healthcare provider and ask to speak with them or their nurse. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is breast hardness in teens normal?

    A hard lump directly below the nipple (breast bud) is normal when you start developing breasts. Contact your healthcare provider if your breasts are already fully developed, and you feel a hard lump that does not move around or go away.

  • What is the survival rate for teen breast cancer?

    On the rare occasion that a teenager has breast cancer, their five-year survival rate is 86%.

  • What should teenage girls look for in a breast self-examination?

    Self-exams of the breasts are not recommended until women are in their 20s. However, it’s good to start familiarizing yourself with your breasts early. Take note of softness, hardness, lumpiness, and tenderness. These can change with breast development and your menstrual cycle.  

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.