Spotlight on Breast Cancer: Facts, Symptoms, and Signs

Estimates show that one in eight women living in the U.S. will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Learn more about the disease and the advances in screening and treatment that allow many women to defeat it.

Breast cancer is a solid-tumor cancer. The disease occurs when abnormal, cancerous cells begin to develop in the breast tissue.

Like most cancers, breast cancer has the highest survival rate when it’s found early. That’s why it’s important for women to take steps to prevent the disease and detect it early through screening.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Age and gender are among the most common risk factors that lead to breast cancer. Men can develop it, but the disease is 100 times less common in men, according to the American Cancer Society. The condition occurs most frequently in women over age 50.

In addition to age and gender, these factors may play a role:

  • Genetic mutations—The most well-known genetic mutations linked to breast cancer are mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Depending on the type present, BRCA mutations can raise a woman’s chances of having breast cancer by 45 to 65 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.

It’s important to note that these genetic abnormalities are rare. Most breast cancers—90 to 95 percent—aren’t related to hereditary abnormal genes.

  • Lifestyle—Women who drink alcohol, who dont exercise regularly, and who are overweight—especially if they gained weight after menopause—have increased odds of developing breast cancer.
  • Family history—Cancer of the breast is more likely in women who have at least one close relative with the disease.

Many of these factors you can’t change. But you can make modest adjustments to your lifestyle. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, and manage your weight by eating a balanced diet.

Keep in mind this list isn’t all-inclusive. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your personal risk.

What About Screening?

The American Cancer Society updated its guidelines for breast cancer screening in October 2015. The guidelines now advise that women with an average disease risk begin having yearly mammograms at age 45. At age 55, women may transition to every-other-year screenings.

Mammograms are often the first line of defense in finding cancer early. Breast cancer rarely causes symptoms beyond a breast lump. Other signs may include breast pain, skin irritation or changes, and nipple discharge, according to the American Cancer Society.

Spotlighting Treatments

Several options are available to treat breast cancer, including:

Treatment is often tailored to each woman’s needs, based on the size of her tumor and whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of her body. For many women, treatment is successful. In fact, five-year survival rates range between 93 and 100 percent for women with early-stage cancer.