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Knowing the signs and getting help

Learn More About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women around the globe, Worldwide, according to Cancer Research UK, more than 1.68 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, with incidence rates varying across the world.

Disclaimer: The information provided below is intended to help you better understand some of the common factors that can influence your personal breast cancer risk and teach you not only about your risk, but also what actions you can take to protect your breast health. This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Be sure to consult your medical provider to develop the best personal care plan for you.


Know Your Risk Factor

Did you know that women have the largest risk of developing breast cancer? Each woman has unique risk factors that are specific to her. Breast cancer incidence and mortality rates generally increase with age – according to the American Cancer Society, 79% of new cases and 88% of breast cancer deaths occur in women ages 50 and older.

A woman is at an increased risk of breast cancer if she:

  • Is aged 65 years or older
  • Has certain inherited genetic mutations for breast cancer (BRCA1 and/or BRCA2)
  • Has dense breast tissue
  • Has two or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer diagnosed at an early age.
  • Has had no children.
  • Had her first child after age 30.
  • Never breastfed a child.
  • Reached menopause after age 55.
  • Had her first period before age 12.
  • Drinks more than one alcoholic beverage per day.
  • Gained significant weight after menopause.
  • Underwent long-term use of menopausal hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause.
Dense Breasts
Scientists do not understand all the factors that makes a woman’s breast tissue dense. However, having dense breast tissue is a risk factor for breast cancer, can also interfere with finding cancers in standard mammography.  To learn more about breast density, visit www.areyoudense.org or read this article by leading breast imaging expert Dr. Wendie Berg and advocate JoAnn Pushkin.

Speak with your doctor about your personal breast cancer risk and what steps you can take to lower that risk.

To learn more about your general risk, check out this assessment tool designed by WorldwideBreastCancer.com.

Men can get breast cancer too. Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. Learn more about breast cancer in men at Cancer.org.

Take Action to Lower Your Risk

While breast cancer risks are fixed, such as your gender, age and family history, some factors associated with increased breast cancer risk can be changed, including preventing postmenopausal obesity and weight gain as an adult (especially in your 40’s and 50’s), not using hormone replacement therapy containing both estrogen/progestin hormones, and not smoking cigarette and limiting alcohol consumption. 

Tips to Reduce your Risk

We can all take important steps to improve our health and reduce our risk for breast cancer, but even very health conscious people with low risk factors are still diagnosed with this disease.  Early detection can improve the prognosis for survival; however, it is important to note that some breast cancers are already Stage IV at the time of initial diagnosis, meaning the cancer has already spread from the breast to other organs in the body and is incurable.

Know Your Body
Lumps and bumps are normal in every breast.  You need to know ‘what is normal’ for you and be aware of changes. Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all. You should get to know your own body and breasts and if you find even a small change, call your doctor or health care provider.

Some symptoms to watch for that may indicate breast cancer include, but are not limited to:

At the onset of any of these changes you should see your health care professional as soon as possible for evaluation. Remember that most of the time, however, these changes in your breast are not cancer.

Visit Worldwide Breast Cancer’s Know Your Lemons to learn more about breast health.

Understanding Breast Cancer Screening and Early Detection

Screening guidelines and media headlines about early detection can sometimes be unclear. However, it is very important for you to understand your general breast cancer risk, get an idea of what is normal for your body, and immediately report any changes in your breasts or body to your doctor. All women should speak with their doctor about their own risk factors for developing breast cancer and, based on those factors, determine what age to start screening, how frequently to get screened and what screening tests are most effective. 

Before you speak to your doctor about your personal breast cancer risk and what steps you can take to lower it, check out the information below to better understand breast cancer.

Breast self-exams (BSE) Revisited

  • Research studies have demonstrated that BSEs plays a small role in finding breast cancer compared with finding a breast lump by chance or simply being aware of what is normal for your breasts and reporting changes right away.
  • Based on updated clinical data in 2009, the American Cancer Society made optional its earlier recommendation that all women do routine breast self-exams monthly.
  • Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE by their doctors and report any breast changes to their health professional right away.
  • Doing BSE regularly is one way for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel and to notice any changes.  Some women feel comfortable doing regular BSE that involves a systematic step-by-step approach to examining the look and feel of one’s breasts at a regular interval (e.g. monthly after your period). Other women are more comfortable simply feeling their breasts in a less systematic approach, such as while showering or getting dressed or doing an occasional thorough exam.
  • Sometimes, women are so concerned about “doing it right” that they become stressed over the technique, so the goal, with or without BSE, is to report any breast changes to a doctor or nurse right away.

Resources for learning how to conduct your own Breast Self-Exam include information at Breastcancer.org and the American Cancer Society. Note: Women who choose to use a step-by-step approach to BSE should have their BSE technique reviewed during their physical exam by a health professional. It is okay for women to choose not to do BSE or not to do it on a regular schedule. However, by doing the exam regularly, you get to know how your breasts normally look and feel and you can more readily find any changes.

Your Screening Options: What You Need to Know

Mammography is not perfect, but is currently the best available screening technology.  As new research findings, new tests, new technology and new treatments become available, it is important for women (and men) and their doctors to have regular, comprehensive discussions about the benefits, limitations and potential harms of screening tests, the risks of not being screened, and the importance of observing the changes in one’s body. To understand why early detection matters, click here.

What it is?

  • Breast self-exam is a systematic, step-by-step approach to examine, look and feel one’s breasts.
  • BSE is an option for women starting in their 20s.
  • Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.

Who should have it?

  • Some women feel comfortable doing regular BSE, although recent studies have not shown it reduced breast cancer mortality.
  • Other women are more comfortable simply feeling their breasts while showering, getting dressed or doing an occasional thorough exam.
  • A clinical breast exam is done by a trained nurse, or doctor, and often in conjunction with a mammogram.
  • The goal, with or without BSE, is to observe and report any breast changes to a doctor or nurse as soon as possible.

What it is?

Mammography remains the most common first step in screening for breast cancer. A mammogram uses X-rays and causes a relatively small radiation exposure to the breasts.

Who should have it?

  • There are varying expert opinions on whether to begin regular screening mammography at age 40, 50 or after menopause.
  • Women known to have inherited the BRCA mutation should not have mammography at young ages and should talk to their doctor about screening options.
  • All women should talk to their doctors about the best screening regimen for them based on their health, history and individual risk factors.

What it is?

Tomo is a "3-D mammogram" that may be performed alone or in addition to a standard mammogram (which is 2D). It creates thins slices, or images of the breast, so that overlapping normal tissues are less likely to hide cancers.

Who should have it?

  • Tomosynthesis is used in some centers in place of the standard mammogram, but in many centers a regular mammogram is done first and tomo is done in addition.
  • Women with high breast density may benefit from tomosynthesis.

What it is?

Uses high-frequency sound waves to evaluate abnormalities. No radiation exposure. Can be used in combination with mammogram.

Who should have it?

  • Women with dense breasts or family or personal history of breast cancer.
  • Women under 35 years of age who need screening due to high risk profiles.

What it is?

Uses magnets to energize water molecules in the body and a computer converts the vibrations into pictures. No radiation exposure. Can be used in combination with a mammogram.

Who should have it?

  • Prior to breast cancer surgery.
  • Those who are BRCA1 or BRCA2 positive.
  • Family history or very high risk.
  • Prior breast cancer diagnosis. Women with implants.


1. American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Facts & Figures.