From the Office of Research on Women’s Health
Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade other tissues. Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in cells of the breast. The disease occurs almost entirely in women, but some men develop breast cancer.
Because cancer cells spread by breaking away from the original (primary) tumor and entering the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, breast cancer can spread to almost any other part of the body and be life threatening.
You can help with early detection by knowing your risk factors, including genetic ones, getting regular exams, and having mammograms of your breasts. It is also important to keep in mind that most women who have known risk factors do not get breast cancer. Also, most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.
If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss your concern with your health care provider. Your health care provider may be able to suggest ways to reduce your risk and can plan a schedule for checkups.
Scientists are still studying the exact causes of breast cancer. Research has shown that women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. These factors are:
- Age: Risk increases with aging.
- Personal history: Risk increases with previous history of breast cancers. A woman who had breast cancer in one breast has an increased risk of getting cancer in her other breast.
- Family history: Risk is higher if a woman’s mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer. Risk is also higher if her father or brother or other relative (in either her mother’s or father’s family) has had breast cancer.
- Genetics: Risk increases if there are changes in certain genes, including BRCA1, BRCA2, and others.
- Childbearing: Risk may increase if a woman never had children or had her first child at an older age. Risk may also increase if a woman had her first period at an earlier age or menopause after 55 years.
- Menopause: Risk may increase for women who take menopausal hormone therapy withestrogen plus progestin after menopause.
- Obesity/weight: Risk increases with being overweight or obese after menopause.
- Race/ethnicity: Risk increases based on a woman’s race/ethnicity. Breast cancer is diagnosed more often in white women than in Latina, Asian, or African American women.
- Previous treatment with radiation: Risk increases for women who had radiation therapy to the chest (including the breasts) before age 30.
- Breast density: Risk may increase for older women whose mammograms show more dense tissue than fatty tissue.
- Physical fitness: Risk increases when a woman is physically inactive throughout her life.
- Alcohol consumption: Risk increases with increased alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that the more alcohol a woman drinks, the greater her risk.
Common symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
- Nipple tenderness.
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
- A nipple turned inward into the breast.
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin of the breast, areola, or nipple. Ridges or pitting so that it looks like the skin of an orange.
- Nipple discharge.
Early breast cancer commonly does not cause pain. Still, you should consult with your health care provider about breast pain or any other symptom that concerns you. Most breast changes are not cancer, but it is important to check out any symptoms as early as possible.
Surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and biological therapy are all options for treating breast cancer. Be sure to consult with your health care provider before pursuing any option.for more information: www.cancer.gov