About Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the U.S., with about 1 woman in 8 being diagnosed during her lifetime.
While these statistics may seem daunting, early detection through screening and advances in treatment have had a major impact on the breast cancer death rate. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the breast cancer death rate in women over 50 went down by 1% each year between 2013 and 2018.
When should I get screened?
Women at average risk for breast cancer should begin yearly screening with mammograms at age 40. Siteman also recommends practicing “breast awareness” before age 40, which means knowing how your breasts normally look and feel. This will help you to recognize changes that need to be discussed with your doctor.
By age 30, all women should also talk to a doctor about their risk of developing breast cancer – and when they should begin screening.
Screening for higher-risk individuals
Screening may begin at earlier ages for those at higher risk. You are considered to be at high risk if you have a family history of breast cancer, have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, received radiation treatment to the chest between age 10-30, or have certain genetic syndromes.
While breast MRI is not routinely used in breast cancer screening for most women, women who are at higher risk should get a breast MRI and a mammogram every year. For higher-risk women, screening should typically start at age 30 or 10 years before the age of their youngest family member to be diagnosed.
For women with a strong family history or known inherited breast cancer gene, genetic counseling is also recommended. Learn more about what genetic testing is and who should consider it.
Black women and increased breast cancer risk
Breast cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death for Black women. Black women are also 41 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
Regular screening can save lives and help reduce this disparity. So, it is especially important for Black women to talk to a doctor by age 30 about their breast cancer risk – and when they should begin screening.
What are my screening options?
The screening mammogram is the most common test used to screen for breast cancer. For higher-risk women, breast MRI may also be helpful in addition to a screening mammogram.
Keep in mind that it’s important to practice breast awareness even before you begin screening so that you can detect any changes in your breasts.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Early breast cancer usually causes no symptoms, which is why early detection is so important. However, more advanced breast cancers can cause symptoms. These symptoms may include:
- A breast lump or thickening that is different from surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or heaviness of one breast
- Bloody or clear discharge from the nipple
- Change in the nipple’s appearance
- Tenderness, pain or aching in one area of the breast
There are other uncommon symptoms of breast cancer you may want to be aware of. If you experience any of the above symptoms, or changes in your breasts, you should report them to your doctor.