Risk Factors You Can Change
- Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
- Taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
- Reproductive history. Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
- Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a womans risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
Research suggests that other factors such as smoking, being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer, and changes in other hormones due to night shift working also may increase breast cancer risk.
How Common Is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. The average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13%. This means there is a 1 in 8 chance she will develop breast cancer. This also means there is a 7 in 8 chance she will never have the disease.
Cu Cancer Center Member Anosheh Afghahi Md Explains Whats Going On And How Doctors Are Dealing With The Problem
The COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to significantly slow the spread of the virus, but the Pfizer and Moderna and vaccines are having an unforeseen consequence for breast cancer doctors. The vaccines often cause swelling in the armpit or underarm that can mimic the lumps associated with breast cancer, causing some women undue concern.
Medical oncologist and University of Colorado Cancer Center member Anosheh Afghahi, MD, has encountered the problem in her own practice in the following discussion she explains what is happening and what providers are doing about it.
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In Your 30s You Should Talk To Your Doctor About Breast Imaging
Usually, doctors recommend breast imaging in your 40s and 50s, but your 30s are a good time to talk to your doctor about whether or not you need any imaging done on your breasts earlier. Depending on your breast tissue, which changes over time, this can include mammograms, ultrasounds or MRIs.
Dr. Richardson says, “Especially if you’re a person of color or of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, you should be asking your doctor if these images need to be captured earlier.”
Dr. Hunt adds, “Women who have family history, we often say that you should start screening 10 years before the age that your mother was diagnosed. So that’s something to talk to your doctor about.”
Should Women Under Age 40 Get Mammograms
In general, regular mammograms arent recommended for women under 40 years of age, in part because breast tissue tends to be dense, making mammograms less effective.The American Cancer Society recommends women ages 40 to 44 should have a choice to start yearly screening mammograms if they would like. Women ages 45 through 54 should have a mammogram each year and those 55 years and over should continue getting mammograms every 1 to 2 years.. Most experts believe the low risk at that age doesnt justify the exposure to radiation or the cost of mammography. But mammograms may be recommended for younger women with a family history of breast cancer and other risk factors.
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How Can I Check My Breasts
Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, and up to your collarbone. You may find it easiest to do this in the shower or bath, by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit. You can also look at your breasts in the mirror. Look with your arms by your side and also with them raised.
Childhood Radiation Exposure And Breast Cancer Risk
Children treated with chest radiation for other pediatric malignancies are known to be at increased risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Radiation exposure for girls during peak breast development, typically 10 to 16 years of age, is most harmful. Approximately 40% of girls treated with radiation for Hodgkin lymphoma will develop breast cancer it takes an average of 20 years to develop. For these women, annual clinical breast examination and annual MRI for screening of breast cancer development is recommended and bilateral prophylactic mastectomies to decrease risk of breast cancer development can be considered.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
Breast pain can be a symptom of cancer. If you have any symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
Some warning signs of breast cancer are
- New lump in the breast or underarm .
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.
If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
Having Dense Breast Tissue
Breasts are made up of fatty tissue, fibrous tissue, and glandular tissue. Breasts appear denser on a mammogram when they have more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue. Women with dense breasts on mammogram have a risk of breast cancer that is about 1 1/2 to 2 times that of women with average breast density. Unfortunately, dense breast tissue can also make it harder to see cancers on mammograms.
A number of factors can affect breast density, such as age, menopausal status, the use of certain drugs , pregnancy, and genetics.
To learn more, see our information on breast density and mammograms.
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Myth: Annual Mammograms Guarantee That Breast Cancer Will Be Found Earlyfact: Although Mammography Is The Best Early
Its certainly normal to breathe a sigh of relief any time your mammogram comes back clean. Most women think, Im good for another year and put breast cancer out of their minds.
Although mammography is a very good screening tool, it isnt foolproof. It can return a false-negative result, meaning that the images look normal even though cancer is present. Its estimated that mammograms miss about 20% of breast cancers at the time of screening.4 False-negative results tend to be more common in women who have dense breast tissue, which is made up of more glandular and connective tissue than fatty tissue. Younger women are more likely to have dense breasts.
The reality of false negatives explains why a woman can have a normal mammogram result and then get diagnosed with breast cancer a few months later. Some women can have a series of normal mammograms and still be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Also, there are cases where breast cancer develops and grows quickly in the year or so after a true negative mammogram.
Mammography does catch most breast cancers, though, and thats why regular screenings are essential. But its also important to pay attention to any changes in your breasts, perform monthly breast self-exams, and have a physical examination of your breasts by a health professional every year.
Where To Get A Mammogram
Most insurance plans cover cancer preventive services, such as a mammogram, without a copay. If you do not have insurance, you may be eligible to sign up for low- or no-cost health insurance. You can also get free in-person assistance signing up for a plan.
If you do not have a provider or need to find a low- or no-cost mammogram site, to find a screening site near you.
If you live in the city, are 40 or older and have not had a mammogram in the past year, you can get a free mammogram at the American-Italian Cancer Foundations Mobile Care Clinic.
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Does The Vaccine Cause Lumps In The Breast As Well Or Only In The Underarms
In terms of lumps inside of the breast, that is not really something that we have seen as often with the COVID vaccine. These are really lumps that are in the lymph nodes in the armpits or underarms. If you have a new breast mass, then you should definitely reach out to your provider. Sometimes its a little difficult because there is some auxiliary breast tissue that goes high up, so unless you have an ultrasound or a mammogram you cant always distinguish between breast tissue and a lymph node. In general, if something is not getting smaller and softer within the span of a week, or if its getting larger or there are other associated symptoms, like a rash, anything that makes it more suspicious, then its always better to just reach out and have the provider do a clinical breast exam and order an ultrasound.
In Your 60s And 70s Revisit Your Screening And Treatment Plan
Breast tissue starts to thin and become less dense in your 60s, which means “the screening can sometimes become less complicated,” Dr. Richardson says, which means “sometimes women in their 60s sometimes can back away from extra screening modalities.”
That does not mean you should be cancelling your next mammogram just that you should be talking with your doctor about your specific needs.
“We still want to stay on top of things,” says Dr. Richardson. “It’s not that we don’t need to look at anymore, it’s that we may not need to look at it with as many studies.”
So how will you and your doctor decide what cadence is right? “There’s not really a lot of good data in breast cancer screenings of older women,” Dr. Hunt says. “If you’re in good health and you and your physician have discussed it, then you should continue to do your screenings. But if … you have multiple other medical issues that are competing risks that are more critical, you might choose not to continue breast cancer screenings . That is a conversation that older women need to have with their doctors.”
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Other Important Risk Factors For Breast Cancer
Unfortunately, there are also a number of important breast cancer risk factors that women have no control over. Knowing which ones apply to you can help you understand your risk and do what you can to lower it. If you feel youre at high risk, talk to a doctor or other health professional. These can increase a womans breast cancer risk:
- Older age, especially 60 years or over
- Family history of breast cancer
- First menstrual period before age 12
- Menopause at age 55 or over
- First childbirth after age 35
- No children
- Tall height
- Dense breasts
How Common Is It
Breast cancer isnt common in women under 40.
A womans risk of breast cancer throughout her 30s is just 1 in 227, or about 0.4 percent. By age 40 to 50, the risk is roughly 1 in 68, or about 1.5 percent. From age 60 to 70, the chance increases to 1 in 28, or 3.6 percent.
Out of all types of cancer, though, breast cancer is the most common among U.S. women. A womans risk of developing breast cancer during her lifetime is about 12 percent.
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Symptoms Of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer can have several symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.
Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it’s always best to have them checked by a doctor.
You should also see a GP if you notice any of these symptoms:
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
- a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
- dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a rash on or around your nipple
- a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.
Find out more about the symptoms of breast cancer.
Tamoxifen And Raloxifene For Women At High Risk
Although not commonly thought of as a healthybehavior, taking the prescription drugs tamoxifenand raloxifene can significantly lower the risk ofbreast cancer in woman at high risk of the disease.Approved by the FDA for breast cancer prevention,these powerful drugs can have side effects, sothey arent right for everyone. If you think youreat high risk, talk to your doctor to see if tamoxifen or raloxifene may be right for you.
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In Your 60s You Should Discuss Potential Preventative Treatments
The average age of breast cancer development is 59. In your 60s you should be understanding your screening process, the types of screenings you should have and understanding your risk. Additionally, if you have had a breast biopsy and there were findings on them that signify increased risk, you should be considering options for chemoprevention .
For example, Dr. Hunt says, that the treatments or preventions for osteoporosis can also be useful for risk reduction for breast cancer.
What Clinical Trials Are Available For Women With Inflammatory Breast Cancer
NCI sponsors clinical trials of new treatments for all types of cancer, as well as trials that test better ways to use existing treatments. Participation in clinical trials is an option for many patients with inflammatory breast cancer, and all patients with this disease are encouraged to consider treatment in a clinical trial.
Descriptions of ongoing clinical trials for individuals with inflammatory breast cancer can be accessed by searching NCIs list of cancer clinical trials. NCIs list of cancer clinical trials includes all NCI-supported clinical trials that are taking place across the United States and Canada, including the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. For information about how to search the list, see Help Finding NCI-Supported Clinical Trials.
People interested in taking part in a clinical trial should talk with their doctor. Information about clinical trials is available from NCIs Cancer Information Service at 18004CANCER and in the NCI booklet Taking Part in Cancer Treatment Research Studies. Additional information about clinical trials is available online.
Anderson WF, Schairer C, Chen BE, Hance KW, Levine PH. Epidemiology of inflammatory breast cancer . Breast Diseases 2005 22:9-23.
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Breast Lumps And Pain Medications
When nonmedical treatment fails to control cyclic breast pain, your health care professional may prescribe birth control pills or danazol . Be sure to ask about possible side effects of these medications and report them to your doctor if you experience them.
- Many other drugs have been tried in the treatment of cyclic breast pain and have been found not to be useful or are generally not recommended because of their side effects.
- Noncyclic breast pain is managed by treating the underlying cause. If a mass or lump is found, it is checked and treated. When your breast pain is caused by chest wall tenderness, it is treated with anti-inflammatory medication or rarely by steroid injections.
- If no cause for the noncyclic pain is found, a pain treatment protocol for cyclic pain is usually tried and often found to be successful.
- For simple mastitis without an abscess, oral antibiotics are prescribed. The antibiotic chosen will depend on the clinical situation, your doctor’s preference, and your medication allergies, if any. This medicine is safe to use while breastfeeding and will not harm the baby.
- Chronic mastitis in nonbreastfeeding women is more complicated. Recurrent episodes of mastitis are common. Occasionally this type of infection responds poorly to antibiotics. Therefore, close follow-up with your doctor is mandatory.
A Little Help From Our Friends
When I started chemo, my friends showed up. Round after roundI was never alone. So much so that my nurse often joked that I had an entourage every time I came in for treatment. I cant imagine going through my diagnosis without the love and support of my friends who just got it. Even when no one knew quite what to say, they were present. And even when I would say Im ok, they would insist on being there.
They were truly a light in one of the darkest times of my life. In fact, my breast cancer diagnosis taught me a lot about the relationships in my life. It had always been important for me to make sure my friends felt like they could lean on me. I always wanted to be the rock. I wanted my boyfriend to know that I was a strong, independent woman.
But I realized the importance of letting people be there. It was OK for me to lean on my friends. It was OK for me to be vulnerable and admit that I wasnt always OK.
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Breast Lumps And Pain Self
- Limit your intake of caffeine in coffee and soft drinks, theophyllines in tea, and theobromine in chocolate. Although the role of these methylxanthines is controversial, some women report improvement in pain when they limit these.
- Daily vitamin E can reduce fibrocystic changes. Avoid doses higher than 600 mg per day.
- Wear a well-fitted bra or sports bra for support, especially if you have large breasts. You may want to wear a comfortable bra to bed.
- Apply warm compresses to your breasts for pain relief.
- Over-the-counter pain medication may help.
- Make note, and avoid, any foods that may seem to cause the pain.
- Keep a diary of pain, documenting frequency and severity for at least a 2-month period. This may be enough to convince you and your doctor that the pain is cyclic and not severe enough to warrant medications that may have bothersome side effects.
- Injury: If you suffer an injury to your breast, apply an ice pack for 20 minutes just as you would for any other bruise. Do not let the ice touch your skin directly. You can use a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel. You may take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen .
- Mastitis: Breast infections require treatment by a doctor. After you see a doctor, try pain medication, frequent feedings of your infant and warm compresses.