Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

October 7, 2020
group of women smiling and wearing breast cancer ribbons

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year, over 276,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors (people who have ever been diagnosed with breast cancer) live in the U.S. With the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer of women in the U.S. About 13 out of every 100 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Men can also develop breast cancer. About 1 in 1000 men in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.


Risk Factors

  • Age – Your risk of breast cancer increases with age.  Most breast cancers occur in woman age 50+.
  • Family History – About 5-10% of breast cancers are inherited.  If your mother, sister, daughter, father, or brother had breast cancer, you have a higher risk.  You also have a higher risk if multiple family members have had breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Personal History – Those with previous abnormal breast findings (hyperplasia, carcinoma in situ) may have a higher risk. Women who have had breast cancer once are more likely to get a second breast cancer.
  • History of Periods – Early menstrual periods (before age 12) and starting menopause after age 55 raises women’s risk of breast cancer.
  • Breast Density – Women with dense breasts may have a higher risk.
  • Childbirth – Women who have never given birth, who gave birth to their first child after age 30, or who do not breastfeed are at a slightly increased risk.
  • Race – White women have a greater risk of breast cancer than black women. However, black women are more likely to die of breast cancer.

Changes You Can Make to Reduce Your Risk

  • Be physically active.
  • Aim for a healthy weight and a balanced diet.
  • Ask your health care provider before taking hormones whether they may increase your risk.
  • Limit alcohol.



Tell your health care provider if you notice

  • Swelling or lump (mass) in the breast
  • Lump in the armpit
  • Nipple discharge (not breast milk and from one side only)
  • Pain in the nipple
  • Pulling in of the nipple
  • Red, flaky, or dimpled skin on nipple or breast
  • Unusual breast pain or discomfort



  • Mammogram - A mammogram is a breast x-ray.  It can show abnormal lumps before they can be felt. The American Cancer Society recommends a first mammogram for women age 40-44. From ages 45-54 women should have a yearly mammogram and after age 55, a mammogram every 1-2 years. 
  • Breast Self-Exam – Be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can tell your health care provider about any changes.
  • Clinical Breast Exam – Your health care provider should use their hands to examine you for lumps and other changes at your regular exam.

The Cancer Support Community wants to ensure that no one faces cancer alone. If you or someone you love is facing cancer, call the Cancer Support Helpline at 888-793-9355.


Sources: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute.