Breast Self-Awareness

Fact 1:  All women are at risk of getting breast cancer.

You may have heard about other risk factors, such as having someone in your family with breast cancer or having an inherited breast cancer gene mutation.  But the truth is:  MOST women with breast cancer don’t have these or other risk factors.  The greatest risks for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older.  That’s why it’s important to learn what you can do.

What can I do?

    1. Know your risk.  Talk to your family to learn about your family health history.  Talk to your doctor about your personal risk of breast cancer.
    2. Get screened.  Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk.  Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk.  Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40.
    3. Know what is normal for you.  Learn how your breasts normally look and feel.
    4. Make healthy lifestyle choices.  Maintain a healthy weight.  Add exercise into your routine.  Limit alcohol intake.

Fact 2:  If you know your risk of breast cancer, you can do things that may reduce your risk.

Risk factors do not cause breast cancer, but they increase the chances that breast cancer may develop.  There are many risk factors linked to breast cancer.  Some of these risk factors increase risk a great deal.  Others increase risk by only a small amount.  Yet, we still don’t know what causes breast cancer to develop.  It’s likely a combination of risk factors, many of which are still unknown.

That is why is it so important that all women know their family medical history and understand their personal risk of breast cancer.

Fact 3:  You can have tests that find breast cancer early.

Mammography (ma-MAH-gruh-fee) uses X-rays to create images of the breast. These images are called mammograms (MAM-o-grams). A radiologist trained to read mammograms studies the images for signs of breast cancer. It is the best tool we have today for detecting breast cancer early, when it is small and easier to treat.

Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam is a physical exam done by a health care provider. It is often done during your regular medical check-up and should be performed by a health care provider well trained in the technique (this may be a physician, nurse practitioner or other medical staff). Sometimes breast cancer can be felt, but not seen on a mammogram.

Click here for the latest recommendations on breast cancer screening for women of average risk.

Fact 4:  You should talk to your doctor about any changes you notice in your breasts.

The signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.  In fact, some women have no signs that they can see.  If you notice any of these breast changes, see your health care provider right away:

    • Lump, hard knot or thickening
    • Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening
    • Change in the size or shape of the breast
    • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
    • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
    • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
    • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
    • New pain in one spot that does not go away

Fact 5:  It’s never too late to adopt healthy behaviors.

You can do things that are good for your health and might lower your risk of getting breast cancer.  Maintain a healthy weight, add exercise into your routine, and limit alcohol intake.