Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that begins in the breast. A malignant tumor can invade surrounding tissues or spread to other areas of the body. Breast cancer is predominantly a disease among woman and is the most common type of cancer among women in the U.S. A small number of men also develop breast cancer.
Mammography is the single most effective method of early detection, since it can identify cancer several years before physical symptoms develop. In accordance with the revised 2009 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Screening Guidelines, early detection is possible through mammograms beginning at the age of 50, or earlier if family history puts one at increased risk, or as decided by the physician in consultation with the patient. After age 50, mammograms are recommended every two years or as advised by the women's physician.
Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines
Women should know their breasts and report changes of size, symmetry or skin appearance to their doctor. Symptoms that may indicate breast cancer are:
- Lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Nipple discharge (other than milk)
- Nipple turning inward
- Change in the color or feel of the skin on or near the breast or underarm area
Those at Risk
It is not yet known exactly what causes breast cancer, but it is known that certain risk factors are linked to the disease.
There are risk factors you cannot control:
- Gender–Breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than men.
- Family History–Having a close family relative (such as a mother, sister, father, or daughter) who have had breast cancer.
- Genetic Risk Factors–Women with mutations in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene changes have up to an 80 percent chance of getting breast cancer during their lifetimes.
- Previous Radiation–Women who have had radiation treatment to the chest area (as treatment for another cancer) earlier in life have a greatly increased risk of breast cancer.
- Breast Density–A dense breast has less fat than glandular and connective tissue. Mammogram films of breasts with higher density are harder to read and interpret than those of less dense breasts.
There are also risk factors you can control:
- Woman's Age with First Child–Having your first child before age 30 can lower your risk.
- Avoid Hormone Replacement Therapy–Postmenopausal women who take combined estrogen and progesterone hormone therapy have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Minimize Alcohol Intake–Women who drink two or more alcoholic drinks per day have about one and one half times greater risk of breast cancer than women who do not drink.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight–The link between weight and breast cancer is complex but there is an increased risk of breast cancer for those who are overweight or obese.
- Lactation–Breast feeding lowers a woman's risk of getting breast cancer.
Go to the National Cancer Institute website to get more information on breast cancer risk factors: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/prevention-genetics-causes/breast