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About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). About 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during the course of her lifetime. Understanding your risk for developing breast cancer and knowing how to help detect breast cancer in its earliest stages are best ways to help keep you healthy.

Early detection

Breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms are all important factors in early detection of breast health issues. The first step to good breast health is being educated and self-aware of your breasts on a monthly basis. Being self-aware includes visual knowledge of your breasts, as well as how they feel. Women who get their period should examine their breasts the week following the end of their menstrual flow. Women who do not have a period should pick the same week each month to examine their breasts.

Signs and symptoms

Recognizing changes in the way your breasts look and feel is important to your overall breast health and may be an indication of breast cancer. Initial signs and symptoms of breast cancer include

  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area;
  • Redness or rash that does not resolve with treatment;
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast;
  • New onset of nipple inversion (nipple turns inward into the breast); and/or
  • Clear or bloody nipple discharge.

If you experience any of these conditions, you should talk with your doctor to determine if a breast cancer screening is necessary.

Breast cancer screening

Mammography continues to be the single best tool for breast cancer screening. The American Cancer Society, with support from several other medical societies, recommends screening mammograms to start at age 40, yearly or every other year, depending on personal risk for breast cancer. Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms of breast cancer, doctors still recommend getting screened as it may detect cancer in its earliest stages before symptoms are present.

Risk factors

While 70 percent of diagnosed breast cancer patients have no known risk factors, there are still some indicators that you may be more likely to develop breast cancer. Women with close female relatives diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, may be at greater risk for developing the disease depending on other personal risk factors. These risk factors may include:

  • Age: breast cancer is uncommon before age 40 and most common after age 60
  • Early age of onset of menstrual periods (before age 10)
  • Late age of onset for menopause (after age 55)
  • Not having children, or having your first child after age 30
  • The use of combination hormone replacement therapy (estrogens) post-menopause
  • Having a male relative with breast cancer
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Use of tobacco or alcohol

You can check your risk at www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool.

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