Breast cancer is among the most common types of cancer in the United States, which is why regular screening for the disease is important for all women. Like all cancers, breast cancer treatment outcomes improve if the disease is detected early. It’s important to understand the signs of breast cancer, your personal risk, and a screening plan as recommended by your doctor.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is, like all types of cancer, a result of the growth of abnormal tissue in the body; in the case of breast cancer, this abnormal tissue typically grows in the milk ducts. Breast cancer can, in some cases, extend to adjacent organs or spread to other sites throughout the body.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
The primary risk factor of breast cancer is age. Most breast cancer patients are above the age of 50, though it is possible to develop the disease earlier. A family history of breast cancer or related cancers can also play a role, however, 85-90% of breast cancer patients have no family history at all. Unfortunately, the majority of female breast cancers are random, which is why all women should have routine breast cancer screenings. Your doctor can explain your risk for breast cancer.
Most female breast cancer patients are above the age of 50, making increasing age the number-one risk factor. You are also at a higher risk if you have a family history of breast cancer—this is especially true if you have a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) who had breast cancer. Your risk will increase if that relative was diagnosed at a younger age or if they had male breast cancer. Finally, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and excess alcohol use can increase your risk of breast cancer.
If you have a family history, your doctor may suggest genetic testing for breast cancer. This involves testing your DNA to see if you have a genetic mutation which would increase your risk for breast cancer.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer to Look Out For
Any abnormalities in the breast that you notice should be addressed with your physician. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you notice:
- A lump in the breast, especially near the underarm
- Thickening or swelling of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of the skin
- Redness or flakiness in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge or blood
- Pain in the breast
- A change in size or shape
If you notice any of these signs, imaging and possible biopsy can identify the cause of your symptom.
Can You Test Genetics for Breast Cancer?
If you have a family history of breast cancer, testing for genetic abnormalities is likely to be recommended so you can begin screening for the disease at an earlier age. Genetic testing serves to detect mutations that put you at an increased risk for breast cancer, which can be inherited. If you are found to have a mutation, this doesn’t mean that cancer is inevitable. However, your doctor will suggest that you have screenings more frequently or earlier in life to ensure that breast cancer can be detected early if you do develop the disease. Since the majority of breast cancers lack a genetic abnormality, however, all women over 40 should have regular breast cancer screenings regardless of their family history or genetic test results.
How Do Doctors Screen for Breast Cancer?
At Carnegie Women’s Health, we recommend screening women for breast cancer with an annual mammogram starting at age 40. Breast cancer can also be screened for using ultrasound or MRI, but mammography remains the “gold standard” for breast cancer screening. During a mammogram, an X-ray of the breast is taken.
Schedule an Appointment
To learn more about your breast cancer screening options or genetic testing for breast cancer, schedule an appointment at Carnegie Women’s Health. Call our New York, NY office at (315) 628-7063 or request an appointment online.