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2019-10 ladies with pink breast cancer ribbons

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Facts:

  • It’s caused when the cells that make up the breast tissue fail to die; instead they endlessly divide and eventually grow into tumors.
  • If detected early on, then there is a good chance the cancer can be successfully treated.
  • One woman in eight in the US will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.
  • Nine out of 10 lumps turn out to be non-cancerous.
  • 80% of all breast cancers occur in post-menopausal women. Risk increases with age; it’s very rare for anyone under 25 to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,930 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
  • About 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2019. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 883.
  • Breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000, after increasing for the previous two decades. They dropped by 7% from 2002 to 2003 alone. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk.
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.
  • Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2019, it’s estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.
  • In women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African-American women than white women. Overall, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer. For Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women, the risk of developing and dying from breast cancer is lower.
  • A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.
  • About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations inherited from one’s mother or father. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common. An increased ovarian cancer risk is also associated with these genetic mutations. In men, BRCA2 mutations are associated with a lifetime breast cancer risk of about 6.8%; BRCA1 mutations are a less frequent cause of breast cancer in men.
  • About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.
  • The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older).


Warning signs include:

  • A change in the shape or size of the nipple or breast, one breast may become noticeably larger or lower.
  • Any changes to the position or coloring of the nipple.
  • Discharge from one or both nipples.
  • A rash around the nipple.
  • Dimpling, denting, scaling or discoloration of the skin.
  • A lump or swelling in the breast, armpit or arm.
  • A pain in the breast or armpit that is new for you.
  • A distinct lump, like a pea, or thickening in the breast that feels different from the rest of the breast.

How to Check for it:

Because breast tissue can vary at different times of the month, it is important to check both your breasts at the same time each month.

Stand in front of the mirror with your hands at your sides and check your breasts to see if they look any different. Repeat with your hands on your hips, pressing the shoulders and armpits forward.

  • Then clasp your hands behind your head and turn from side to side to check that both nipples move up and down at the same time.
  • While in the bath or shower, raise your left arm and feel your left breast with the flat of your right hand. Starting from the outer top, press firmly enough to feel the tissue underneath and move in a circular motion. When you have completed a circle, move inwards slightly and repeat circling. Continue this until you have checked the entire breast including the nipple. Also check the area above the breast, especially the armpit. Repeat on the other side.
  • Lie with a pillow under your left shoulder and repeat the check. Don’t freak out if you do find anything, just get it checked by your doctor.


Screening tests are used to find cancer before a person has any symptoms. Here are the American Cancer Society’s recommendations to help guide you.

  • Women ages 40 to 44 have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
  • All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening.

Women should also know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away.

Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

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