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October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer, a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast, is the second most common cancer in women, after skin cancer.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

The following are risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Older age
  • A personal history of breast cancer or benign (non-cancer) breast disease
  • Inherited risk of breast cancer
  • Dense breasts
  • Exposure of breast tissue to estrogen made in the body
  • Taking hormone therapy for symptoms of menopause
  • Radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Obesity
  • Drinking alcohol

Whenever a woman notices any unusual changes in her breasts, she should contact her healthcare provider to schedule an exam.

What is the best method of screening for breast cancer?

Regular high-quality screening mammograms and clinical breast exams are the most sensitive ways to screen for breast cancer.

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. A screening mammogram can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. This type of mammogram usually involves two or more x-ray pictures, or images, of each breast. The x-ray images often make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt. Screening mammograms can also find microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium) that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

Diagnostic mammograms can be used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of the disease has been found. Besides a lump, signs of breast cancer can include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape; however, these signs may also be signs of benign conditions. A diagnostic mammogram can also be used to evaluate changes found during a screening mammogram or to view breast tissue when it is difficult to obtain a screening mammogram because of special circumstances, such as the presence of breast implants.

Information from this article was adapted from the National Cancer Institute website.