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Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer forms in tissues of the breast. It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.

The American Cancer Society estimates for 2011:

     New cases: 230,480 (female) 
     Carcinoma in situ (CIS): 57,650
     Deaths: 39,520 (female)

Everyone, especially women, between the ages of 21 to 64 years should do monthly breast self-examinations. Studies show that regular breast self-exams combined with annual exams by a health care provider, improves the chances of detecting cancer early. The more you examine your breasts, the more easily changes will be detected. Breast self-exam is an essential part of taking care of yourself.

Risk Factors

A risk factor increases your chances of having a disease. Simply being a woman is the main risk for breast cancer. While men also get the disease, it is about 100 times more common in women than in men.


Your chances of getting breast cancer will increase with age. About two out of three women with invasive breast cancer are age 55 or older when the cancer is found.

Family History

Breast cancer risk is higher among women with close blood relatives from either the mother or father's side of the family who have or had this disease. Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer about doubles a woman's risk. Genetic mutations are linked to 5 to 10% of breast cancers. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most common. Women can have a blood test preformed to see if they are positive for this gene. It's important to note that 70 - 80 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of this disease.

Early periods/late menopause

Women who began having periods before age 12 or who went through menopause after the age of 55 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.

Previous Breast Cancer

If you have had cancer in one breast your chances increase of having it in the other breast.


White women are slightly more likely to get breast cancer than are black women, but black women are more likely to die of this cancer. Asian, Hispanic and Native American women have a lower risk of getting and dying from breast cancer.

Dense Breast Tissue

Dense breast tissue means there is more gland tissue and less fatty tissue. Women with denser breast tissue have a higher risk of breast cancer. Dense breast tissue can also make it harder for health care providers to spot problems on mammograms.

Alcohol use

Use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of getting breast cancer. Women who have one drink a day have a very small increased risk. Those who have two to five drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who drink no alcohol. The American Cancer Society suggests limiting the amount you drink.


Being overweight or obese after menopause increases one's risk. The American Cancer Society recommends you maintain a healthy weight throughout your life and avoid gaining too much weight.

Signs and Symptoms

Generally, early breast cancer does not cause pain. Even so, a woman should see her health care provider about breast pain or any other symptom that does not go away.

A change in how the breast or nipple feels - You may experience nipple tenderness or notice a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.

A change in how the breast or nipple looks - This could mean a change in the size or shape of the breast or a nipple that is turned slightly inward. In addition, the skin of the breast, areola or nipple may appear scaly, red or swollen or may have ridges or pitting that resembles the skin of an orange.

Nipple discharge

What Can You Do?

Mammograms play a key role in helping to diagnose breast cancer. A routine mammogram should start at least by the age of 40 or at your health care provider's discretion or when there are changes noted in your breast.

A clinical breast examination should be done by age 20 and at least every three years when you have a physical examination with your health care provider.

Changes in your breast may or may not be cancerous but early detection of a lump can be a measure in helping you along the road to diagnosis and treatment if needed.

Tobacco Cessation

The use of tobacco in any form is a great health concern. Even if you don't smoke, reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. If you use tobacco products, prepare yourself to quit as soon as possible.

  • Set a date to stop and mark it on your calendar. Twenty-four hours before the start date make everyone aware of your goal to stop.
  • Remove the smell of tobacco by cleaning your house and car. Remember to get rid of lighters, ashtrays and matches.
  • You can use over-the-counter aids such as nicotine patches and gum. Contact your health insurance provider to see if Nicotine replacement therapy is a covered service.
  • Know what your triggers are that make you want to use tobacco products and be prepared with chewing gum, celery or carrot sticks.
  • Kentucky has a free Quit Now program that helps you quit using tobacco products. You can contact the Quit Now program at (800) 784-8669.


Last Updated 9/28/2012