Breast cancer is characterized by a malignant
tumor (or tumors) found in the tissue of the breast. It is the most
common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death
in women (exceeded only by lung cancer).
The majority of lumps found in the breast are
benign (not cancerous). Benign breast lumps do not spread outside
of the breast and they are not life threatening.
Just being a woman is the main risk factor for breast cancer. While men can
also get the disease, it is nearly 100 times more common in women. A woman’s
chance of developing breast cancer increases as she ages. Approximately eight
out of 10 breast cancers are found in women over age 50. Other major risk factors
five to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to mutations in
certain genes. The most common are those of the BRCA1 and BRCA2
genes. Women with changes to these genes have as much as an 80
percent chance of getting breast cancer during their lifetimes.
Other gene changes may raise breast cancer risk as well.
cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have
the disease. The relatives can be from either the mother’s
or father’s side of the family. Having a mother, sister,
or daughter with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s
woman with cancer in one breast has a greater chance of developing
a tumor in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.
This is different from the first cancer coming back, which is called
a recurrence of the cancer.
who have had radiation treatment to the chest earlier in life have
a greatly increased risk of breast cancer.
- Long-term use (several years or more) of
combined HRT (estrogens together with progesterone) after menopause
increases the risk of breast cancer as well as the risk of heart
disease, blood clots, and strokes.
of alcohol is linked to a slightly increased risk of breast
cancer. Women who have one drink a day have a very small increased
risk. Those who have two to five drinks daily have about 1.5 times
the risk of women who do not drink alcohol.
- Being overweight
is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause
and if the weight gain took place during adulthood. Also, the risk
seems to be higher if the extra fat is in the waist area.
- Women who began having periods early (before
12 years of age) or who went through menopause after the age
of 55 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.
who have not had children or who had their first child after age
30, have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer. While
being pregnant more than once and at an early age reduces the risk.
types of abnormal biopsy results can be linked to a slightly higher
risk of breast cancer.
- : Regular
exercise has been shown to lower the risk of getting breast cancer.
Women experience a wide range of lumpiness in
their breasts and only a small percentage of lumps are malignant.
If you are concerned about a lump or experience any of the following
symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
- A portion of the skin on the breast or underarm
swells and has an unusual appearance.
- Veins on the skin surface become more prominent
on one breast.
- The breast nipple becomes inverted, develops
a rash, changes in skin texture, or has a discharge other than
- A depression is found in an area of the
The American Cancer Society recommends that
women age 40 and older have a screening mammogram every year and
continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. If you
are at increased risk for breast cancer, you should talk with your
doctor about the benefits of starting mammography screening at an
earlier age. Get in the habit of performing a breast self exam once
a month, and make sure you receive a clinical breast exam from your
doctor at each annual visit. And exercise regularly—studies
show that exercise reduces breast cancer risk.
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