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Breast Cancer Information

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. It is considered a heterogeneous disease — differing by individual, age group, and even the kinds of cells within the tumors themselves. Obviously no woman wants to receive this diagnosis, but hearing the words “breast cancer” doesn’t always mean an end. It can be the beginning of learning how to fight, getting the facts, and finding hope.

Aside from skin cancer, women in the United States get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer. It is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in women. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. And, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. The most effective way to fight breast cancer is to detect the disease in its early stages, when it is most treatable, through routine screenings.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Although we do not know the exact cause of breast cancer, research has shown that women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop the disease. Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Age: more than 50% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are 65 years or older.
  • Weight: obese or overweight women are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Diet and Lifestyle: lack of physical activity, a diet high in saturated fat, and alcoholic intake of more than two drinks per day can promote breast cancer.
  • Menstrual and Reproductive History: Early menstruation or late menopause, having your first child at an older age or not having given birth, or taking birth control pills for more than ten years can promote breast cancer.
  • Family and Personal History: A family history of breast cancer, particularly for immediate family members, and a personal history of the benign (non-cancer) breast disease can increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Medical and Other Factors: Dense breast tissue (often identified by a mammogram), past radiation therapy to the breast or chest area, a history of hormone treatments—such as estrogen and progesterone, or gene changes— including BRCA1, BRCA2, and others, can increase the risk of breast cancer.


Recommended Guidelines for Breast Exams

Early detection saves lives! The following chart provides recommended guidelines for breast exams.

Age 20 to 39 years

Perform routine breast self-exams. For instructions on how to effectively perform a breast self-exam, click here. Have a clinical breast exam every one to three years.

Beginning at age 40

Have a mammogram and clinical breast exam each year. If you’re at higher risk for breast cancer, you may need more frequent exams.

All Ages

Maintain a healthy weight, enjoy a nutritious and well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, do not smoke and limit alcohol consumption.Keep a record of your breast self-exams, clinical exams and mammograms.

Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Generally, early breast cancer does not cause pain. Common signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A change in how your breast or nipple feels.
  • Nipple tenderness, a lump or thickening in/near the breast or underarm.
  • A change in how the breast or nipple looks (i.e. size/shape of the breast; size/shape of the nipple, including a slightly turned inward nipple).
  • Scaly, red or swollen appearance of the skin of the breast, areola or nipple. The skin may have ridges or pitting that resembles the skin of an orange.
  • Nipple discharge.

If you experience breast pain or any other breast cancer symptom(s), please see your health care provider immediately.

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