Did you know that there is an estimation of 330,840 new cases of breast cancer each year? Or that 1 in 8 women have a chance of developing breast cancer?

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in American women, which makes awareness and early detection an important mechanism to prevent the onset of breast cancer. To prevent breast cancer, it’s important to understand the risk factors of the disease, or the ways that could make one more susceptible to get the disease.

Risk Factors

Risk factors that you cannot change:

  • Increasing age – By the time you are 30 years of age, your risk of breast cancer is at .44%. By the time you are in your 60s, your risk of breast cancer jumps to 3.5%. Most cancers are found in women ages 55 and older.
  • Genetic mutations – Inheriting the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene puts you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Having dense breasts – If you have breasts that are more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue, you can have a risk of 1.5 to 2 x of developing breast cancer compared to those who have average breast density.
  • Personal family history – If you have a first degree relative who had breast cancer, or multiple relatives affected by breast or ovarian cancer, your risk of developing breast cancer is higher.
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy to the chest

Risk factors that you can change to help prevent breast cancer:

  • Amount of physical activity – Exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer. It is recommended that we engage in 45 – 60 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week.
  • Your weight – Being overweight is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Having more fat tissue means having higher estrogen levels, which increases the risk of breast cancer. Be sure to take care of your weight and eat the recommended calories suggested. Be sure to eat more vegetables and limit processed foods. Talk to your doctor about how you can manage your weight.
  • Smoking – Smoking increases the risk of breast cancer as well as heart disease. It also causes smelly breath, bad teeth and wrinkles.
  • Alcohol consumption – Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. It is recommended that women have 1 drink or less a day.

In addition to taking care of these risk factors, it is important to stay up to date on all appointments, as well as conducting your own breast self-checks. To complete a self-breast exam at home please use these 4 steps below as a guide. Please note, this must be done with no clothes or bra on so you can visual the breast and you can do this standing or sitting down:

  1. Look in the mirror with your hands on your hips. Do you see any changes in the way the breast looks, such as redness or dimpling of the skin? Refer to lemons picture below.
  2. Look in the mirror and raise your arms. Does the breast move freely? Do you see any changes in the breasts? Refer to lemons picture below.
  3. Look for fluid from the nipple. Do not squeeze the nipple. If you see any fluid from the nipple, what does it look like? White, brownish, red?
  4. Lastly, feel your breasts lying down. Do you feel anything? Is there a lump or mass?

Image sourced from Know Your Lemons Foundation

TIP: Always use the “up and down” method to feel the breast tissue. Learn more about this approach here.

In addition to conducting your own self-checks of your breasts, its important to stay up to date on screening and diagnostic appointments with your physician. A clinical breast exam should be done once a year at your annual screening with your primary care provider or your OBGYN. Please read the information below regarding additional appointments one can schedule:

  • Mammography – This is the gold standard. By the time you are 35, annual or screening mammograms should be done in addition to having a clinical breast exam from your healthcare provider. Two ‘views’ are taken of each breast in a mammogram. A radiologist reviews the images taken of your breast to past images of the breast to look for inconsistencies between the pictures. If the radiologist sees something new or a change from previous exams, you will be called back for more images to be taken.
  • If you are called back for additional images – This is considered a diagnostic exam. You may have more images of one or both breasts depending upon the recommendation of the radiologist. Four images are taken of each breast. The radiologist will review the images and you will have an answer prior to leaving the imaging facility about what could be going on. If there is a finding which needs more investigating, the radiologist will contact your healthcare provider with their recommendations and a plan will be put in place for you.
  • Breast ultrasound – One reason for a breast ultrasound is if you have dense breast tissue. Breast density can change year to year. The letter you receive from an imaging office with your screening mammography results will inform you of your breast density. The exam includes a full scan of both breasts by the sonographer and is reviewed by the radiologist in the same manner as mammography. In some cases, a person coming back for a diagnostic mammogram may also have a breast ultrasound at the same appointment. The mammogram would be done before the ultrasound. The breast ultrasound at this time is a diagnostic breast ultrasound and is being done to examine a specific concern found on a screening mammogram or dense breast screening ultrasound. As with diagnostic mammography, you will have an answer as to what is going on with your diagnostic breast ultrasound prior to leaving the imaging facility.
  • Breast MRI – A breast MRI is used to screen high risk women with strong family history or genetic risk of breast cancer. This exam can provide more answers if there is a suspicious finding seen on mammography or ultrasound. This exam can be used prior to starting treatment for breast cancer to determine the extent of disease and can be used after treatment to determine effectiveness of treatment. NOTE: There is no radiation exposure with a breast MRI. The machine uses magnets and radio waves.

Below is a table to help you learn the different risk levels and what you should do to take care of yourself if you fall into one of these categories:

In the table above, there is a lot of mention of genetic testing. To consider genetic testing, a risk assessment by a healthcare provider must be completed to determine if genetic testing is appropriate. In genetic testing, your provider’s office, may take blood or saliva samples and send to a lab for analysis. This analysis looks for mutations of your genes that could put you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. With this knowledge, you and your healthcare team can determine the best course of action should you test positive for a mutation.

If you need to schedule a mammogram, call ECHN’s Centralized Scheduling at 860.872.5150 or for 3D Mammography, please contact the Women’s Center for Wellness at 860.533.4646

If you are between the ages of 30 – 64 and have a limited income, no health insurance or a high insurance deductible, then please call our Early Detection Program at 860.872.5368 as you may qualify for free mammograms, pap tests and heart screenings.