Breast Cancer FAQs

Approximately 1 in 8 women in America will have breast cancer in her lifetime. It is the most common cancer in women, regardless or race or ethnicity.

The known risks for developing breast cancer include:

  • Being 55 years of age or older
  • Carrying a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Having a family history of breast cancer
  • Having been diagnosed with breast cancer before
  • Having dense breast tissue
  • Having certain benign breast conditions
  • Using, or having used, certain types of hormone therapy

Minorities are no more likely to develop breast cancer than anyone else. However, minority women, especially those with low incomes, are less likely to survive a diagnosis of cancer. This is usually because cancers are detected too late, perhaps from cultural taboos, unavailable or unaffordable healthcare, or lack of education about early detection, for effective treatment.

No. More than 75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of it.

No. Although breast cancer is most common in women older than 50, it occurs in women of all ages.

No. Although the overwhelming majority of breast cancers occur in women, about 1,000 men are affected each year.

Hormone-replacement drugs that contain both estrogen and progestin increase the risk of breast cancer when they are taken for more than 5 years. Whether estrogen-only therapy affects risk has not been determined. Birth control pills may slightly increase a woman's risk of breast cancer during the time in which she takes them, but the risk returns to normal after she stops.

The size of breasts has nothing to do with the risk of getting breast cancer. However, it can be more difficult to find a growth in a larger breast than in a smaller one.

Signs of breast cancer may include:

  • A lump in the armpit that doesn't go away after a menstrual cycle
  • Swelling in the armpit
  • Pain or tenderness in the breast
  • A change in the size, contour, texture or temperature of the breast
  • A change in the nipple
  • An unusual discharge from the nipple
  • A flattening or indentation in the breast

These symptoms do not necessarily indicate breast cancer but, if detected, a physician should be consulted.

Most lumps in the breast are usually benign cysts, but any lump should be evaluated by a physician.

Although a lump may be an indication of cancer, the absence of one does not mean a woman is cancer-free. Mammograms, for example, can detect cancer before a lump is felt.

Yes. Mammograms, while highly effective, do not detect 10 percent to 15 percent of breast cancers.

Early detection may be possible for women who regularly:

  • Perform self-examinations
  • Go for mammograms
  • Get physical examinations

Mammograms are recommended yearly for women who are older than 40 or have a family history of breast cancer. Women between 20 and 39 should have one every three years.

No. In terms of a woman's overall survival rate from early-stage breast cancer, studies show there is no difference between treatment using a combination of lumpectomy and radiation therapy, and treatment using mastectomy alone. Whether a woman has a choice of treatment depends on her individual case.

Reconstructive breast surgery can be performed immediately after the mastectomy while the patient is still on the operating table, or it can be performed years after the procedure.

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