Fact: All women are at risk of getting breast cancer.

You may have heard about other risk factors, such as having someone in your family with breast cancer or having an inherited breast cancer gene mutation. But the truth is MOST women with breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease.  Their only known risks are being a woman and getting older.  That’s why it’s important to learn what you can do.

WHAT CAN I DO?

  1. Know your risk.  Talk to your family to learn about your family health history.  Talk to your doctor about your personal risk of breast cancer.
  2. Get screened.  Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk.  Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk.  Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40.
  3. Know what is normal for you.  Learn how your breasts normally look and feel.
  4. Make healthy lifestyle choices.  Maintain a healthy weight.  Add exercise into your routine.  Limit alcohol intake.

1)  If you know your risk of breast cancer, you can do things that may reduce your risk.

You can check your personal risk factors here: Breast Cancer Risk Factors Table.

Risk factors do not cause breast cancer, but they increase the chances that breast cancer may develop.  Many factors are linked to breast cancer risk. There are factors that increase breast cancer risk and a few that lower risk. Some factors affect risk a great deal and others by only a small amount.

Although we have learned a lot, we still do not understand what causes breast cancer to develop at a certain time in a certain person. It’s likely a combination of risk factors (some of which are still unknown). But why a certain combination of factors might cause breast cancer in one person, but not in another, is still unclear. That is why it is so important that all women know their family medical history and understand their personal risk of breast cancer.

2)  You can have tests that may find breast cancer early.

Mammogram
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast.  It is the best tool we have today for finding breast cancer early.  It can find breast cancer when it is small and easier to treat.  Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk.

Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam is done by your doctor or nurse in an office or clinic.  He or she will look at and feel your breasts and under your arms to look for breast cancer.  Sometimes breast cancer can be felt, but not seen on a mammogram.  Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40.

3)  You should talk to your doctor about any changes you notice in your breasts.

The signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.  In fact, some women have no signs that they can see.  If you notice any of these breast changes, see your health care provider right away:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening
  • Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away

4)  It’s never too late to adopt healthy behaviors.

You can do things that are good for your health and might lower your risk of getting breast cancer. Maintain a healthy weight, add exercise into your routine, and limit alcohol intake.