Breast Cancer Risk Factors and Screenings
- Family history and genetics: Women with a family history of breast cancer, especially in a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) or two or more close relatives, have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are inherited. Researchers have discovered that abnormal changes in two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) make some women more likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer. The abnormal changes affect less than 1 percent of the general population.
- Increased age: Women become more likely to develop breast cancer as they grow older.
- Certain hormonal factors: Research suggests that beginning menstrual periods at an early age, going through menopause at a late age, or using hormone replacement therapy after menopause may increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer.
- Nulliparity: Women who have never given birth, or women who gave birth after age 30, are at a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Atypical Cells: Abnormal or atypical cells inside the milk ducts do not necessarily become cancerous, but they can increase your risk. For women with a family history of breast cancer, the presence of atypical cells increases their risk even further.
Research suggests that all women have some chance of developing cancer, but some have a higher risk than others. At UAB, the Lynne Cohen Preventive Care Program for Women's Cancers can help you determine your personal risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer level through an accurate, scientific evaluation. More importantly, you will also receive recommendations from a team of experts on how you can reduce your risk.
Breast Cancer Screenings
Cancer screening is looking for cancer before a patient has any symptoms. Early detection of cancer is important because, when caught early, it may be easier to treat.
- Breast Self-Exam (BSE): It’s important to become familiar with how your breasts feel normally, so that you can detect any changes that occur. Checking for lumps, thickness or other changes through a breast self-exam performed at the same time every month can alert you to potentially cancerous cells.
- Clinical Breast Exam: Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam performed by a doctor at least once every three years, usually at the time of her regular pap smear. After age 40, women should have a clinical breast exam annually.
- Mammogram: Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram annually to detect for breast cancer. Mammograms can detect cancerous cells that are still too small for you or your doctor to feel, and can allow breast cancer treatment to begin earlier than without a mammogram.
- Early screening for breast cancer is recommended for women with a family history of premenopausal breast cancer or a known inherited genetic predisposition to breast cancer.
- MRI of the breast: MRI in conjunction with mammogram is recommended for some women with a family history of breast cancer.
Researching the particular screening on reputable cancer Web sites, such as the American Cancer Society can help you feel at ease with the screening.