Breast Cancer Risk Factors and Symptoms
As a woman, your preventive healthcare regimen is vitally import- ant when it comes to breast health. Remember, breast cancer is the most frequently occurring type of cancer and one of the highest causes of cancer death in women. Breast cancer is treated most effectively when detected early – when tumors are small and have not spread to other parts of the body. Patients with early-stage cancer may have a very good prognosis. Once the cancer has begun to spread, breast cancer cases can become much more serious.
Breast cancer risk factors include:
• First menstrual period before age 12.
• Late onset menopause.
• Age 55 and older.
• Dense breast tissue – higher risk, and hides cancer from mammograms.
• White, non-Hispanic women develop breast cancer more frequently; African- American women have higher mortality rates. Before age 45, women of Hispanic, Asian, or Native American origin have higher risk.
• Family history of relatives with breast cancer.
• Benign (noncancerous) breast conditions including ductal hyperplasia, fibroadenoma, and sclerosing adenosis.
• Genetic mutation, most commonly in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
• History of chest radiation therapy.
• Prior breast cancer.
• Lifestyle such as alcohol use, being over weight, no children, first child after age 30, hormone therapy after menopause, sedentary lifestyle and use of oral contraceptives within last 10 years.
This list of risk factors is not all-inclusive.
It is especially important for a woman to keep her primary care provider informed about any breast cancer risk factors. This helps providers recommend the best approach to prevention and early detection.
Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms Talk to your primary care provider if you have any of these symptoms:
• A lump, thickening or change in size or shape of the breast.
• Redness, peeling, flaking, pitting, or bleed- ing on the skin of the breast or nipple.
• An inverted nipple.
Breast Cancer Screening guidelines have two distinct age categories:
Ages 20–39: Perform monthly breast self-exams, reporting any lumps or changes immediately. For more information about self-exams, see The National Breast Cancer Foundation’s Breast Self-Exam page.
Ages 40+: Continue monthly self-exams; annual mammograms are recommended. Those at high risk may need additional measures such as annual mammograms before 40; additional screenings, such as breast MRI (see sidebar.)