Breast Care

Women in the United States get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer. However, thanks to improvements in treatment and early detection, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today. Women can lower their risk of breast cancer by conducting monthly self-exams, scheduling annual clinical exams, and understanding breast cancer risk factors.

Early Detection for Breast Cancer is Key

By Jenni Frankenberg Veal

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

According to the American Cancer Society, the following may contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Aging and family history are two major risk factors for breast cancer. A woman’s risk increases as she gets older, and a woman who has one immediate female relative with breast cancer has almost twice the risk of a woman without a family history. In addition, alcohol use, ethnicity and pregnancy history play roles in determining a woman’s risk of breast cancer. White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American, Hispanic, or Asian women, and women who don’t have children or who have their first child after menopause have a higher risk. Women who are overweight or obese after menopause, have dense breasts or have menstrual periods for a longer time than most (either because they started menstruating at an early age or went through menopause at a later age) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.

Lastly, according to the American Cancer Society, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, hormone replacement therapy used over a long period of time may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer society also says that women who use combined hormone therapy (the use of both estrogen and progestin) after menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Early Detection for Women of All Ages

If detected early, women diagnosed with breast cancer have a survival rate of 98 percent. It is important for women to know what is abnormal and contact their health care provider right way if they notice any breast changes.

Women in their 20s and 30s: According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), women beginning at age 20 should perform breast self-exams monthly. The group also recommends clinical exams every one to three years. Many physicians recommend a baseline mammogram at age 35.

Women in their 40s: Many women in this age bracket develop breast cysts, harmless fluid-filled sacs within the breast tissue. The College recommends that women in their 40s should schedule annual clinical exams and mammograms. Women in their 40s should also perform monthly self-exams.

Women over 50: The older a woman is, the more likely she is to get breast cancer. Women 50 and older should also conduct monthly self-exams and schedule annual clinical exams and mammograms.

High Risk: The College, along with the American Cancer Society, recommends that women at a higher risk for breast cancer due to their family history, genetics or certain other factors get a mammogram, clinical exam and an MRI annually at an earlier age. A woman should talk with her doctor about her history and whether she should have additional tests at an earlier age.