Breast Cancer Awareness
Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
Some warning signs of breast cancer are
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer. If you have any signs or symptoms, be sure to see your doctor right away.
Click here for a short video to learn more about mammogram screenings.
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. All women need to be informed by their health care provider about the best screening options for them. When you are told about the benefits and risks of screening and decide with your health care provider whether screening is right for you—and if so, when to have it—this is called informed and shared decision-making.
Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Talk to your doctor about which breast cancer screening tests are right for you, and when you should have them.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every two years. Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care provider about when to start and how often to get a mammogram. Women should weigh the benefits and risks of screening tests when deciding whether to begin getting mammograms before age 50.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. For many women, mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. At this time, a mammogram is the best way to find breast cancer for most women of screening age.
A breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the breast. Breast MRI is used along with mammograms to screen women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer. Because breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer, they are not used for women at average risk.
What Does It Mean to Have Dense Breasts?
A mammogram shows how dense your breasts are. When you get the results of your mammogram, you may also be told if your breasts have low or high density. Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
What Is Breast Density?
Breast density reflects the amount of fibrous and glandular tissue in a woman’s breasts compared with the amount of fatty tissue in the breasts, as seen on a mammogram.
On a mammography report, breast density is assigned to one of the following four categories—
- The breasts are almost entirely fatty (about 10% of women).
- A few areas of dense tissue are scattered through the breasts (about 40% of women).
- The breasts are evenly dense throughout (about 40% of women). This may be called “heterogeneously dense” on the mammography report.
- The breasts are extremely dense (about 10% of women).
Women in the first two categories are said to have low-density, non-dense, or fatty breasts. Women in the second two categories are said to have high-density or dense breasts. About half of women who are 40 years old or older have dense breasts.
If your mammography report says you have dense breasts, what does it mean?
Why Is Breast Density Important?
Breast Cancer Risk
Women with dense breasts have a higher chance of getting breast cancer. The more dense your breasts are, the higher your risk. Scientists don’t know for sure why this is true.
Breast cancer patients who have dense breasts are not more likely to die from breast cancer than patients with non-dense (fatty) breasts.
Dense tissue can hide cancers. Fibrous and glandular tissue looks white on a mammogram. So does a possible tumor. Because it’s hard to tell the difference between a tumor and dense breast tissue on a mammogram, a small tumor may be missed.
What Should I Do If I Have Dense Breasts?
Talk to your doctor about your personal risk of getting breast cancer. Dense breasts are just one of several risk factors for breast cancer. Your doctor will also think about other factors, like your age and family history of cancer.
Different tests may be able to find some cancers that are missed on a mammogram. But these tests are more likely to have a false positive result (the test is reported as abnormal, but you really don’t have cancer). False positive test results often lead to unnecessary tests, like a biopsy. Also, you may have to pay for these tests.
Your doctor may suggest one of these tests—
- Breast ultrasound. A machine that uses sound waves to make pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast.
- Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A kind of body scan that uses a magnet linked to a computer. The MRI scan makes detailed pictures of areas inside the breast.
Talk with your doctor about how often you should be screened for breast cancer and which tests your doctor recommends.
For additional information, please visit the CDC's website.