Making sense of the complex world of breast cancer can be overwhelming, so below are five simple facts about breast cancer and four steps you can take towards early detection. Whether you are facing a personal diagnosis or that of a friend or loved one, there are many resources available to help you better understand the many faces of this disease. Learn about your personal risk and ways to take an active role in your breast health. Read about being a survivor, or offering support to a breast cancer survivor. Find local resources available to assist you. Becoming informed and empowered is the first step in battling this disease.
Click here to use our interactive tutorial to better understand the development of breast cancer, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options.
Fact One: 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. Their only risks are being a woman and getting older. That’s why it’s important to learn what you can do.
What can I do?
- 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.
- 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.
- Know what is normal for you. Learn how your breasts normally look and feel.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Maintain a healthy weight. Add exercise into your routine. Limit alcohol intake.
Fact Two: 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. Learn more about risk factors here.
Fact Three: You can have tests that find breast cancer early.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. It is the best tool we have today for finding breast cancer early. It can find breast cancer when it is small and easier to treat. Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk.
Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam is done by your doctor or nurse in an office or clinic. He or she will look at and feel your breasts and under your arms to look for breast cancer. Sometimes breast cancer can be felt, but not seen on a mammogram. Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40.
Fact Four: 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:
Fact Five: 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.
Four simple steps for early detection
Know your risk: Talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors. Talk with your family to learn about your family health history.
Get screened: Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40, and clinical breast exams at least every 3 years starting at age 20 and every year starting at 40. Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at higher risk for breast cancer.
Know what is normal for you: Know how your breasts look and feel. Report any changes to your doctor. If you notice any lumps, redness, warmth, dimpling, or puckering, tell your doctor.
Make healthy lifestyle choices: Be sure to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, and limit your alcohol intake.
Make these actions part of your life.
You are the cure.
Women with a family history of breast cancer or other concerns about their personal risk should consult with a health care provider. Screening tests may need to be done more often and/or started earlier than usual.
As part of a total approach to breast health, women should be familiar with their own bodies, play an active role in their health, and develop a close partnership with their health care providers.
Empower yourself with knowledge.