There are a number of risk factors for breast cancer:
- Being female
- Being 55 years of age or older
- Being White or African-American
- Having a family history or personal history of breast cancer
- Other factors, including having children at a later age, consuming two or more daily alcoholic drinks, being obese, taking oral contraceptives, exposure to chest radiation, and receiving hormone therapy after menopause, also have been linked to an increased risk for developing breast cancers.
Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop breast cancer. Many women with one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while others with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors. Even if a woman with risk factors does develop breast cancer, it is difficult to determine how much the factors played a role in her cancer development.
Reduce Your Risk
To reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, our experts suggest the following:
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle: This is one of the best ways to reduce your risk for breast cancer. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of regular exercise and limiting your intake of alcohol.
- Conduct breast self-exams, have annual gynecologic checkups including a clinical breast exam, and get regular mammograms. The breast cancer team at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center can help you understand your personal risk for breast cancer, and how best to lower that risk.
The earliest sign of breast cancer is an abnormality that shows up on a mammogram before it can felt by the patient or health care provider. As the tumor continues to grow, physical symptoms including:
- A lump in the breast
- Thickening, swelling or dimpling of the breast
- Skin irritation
- Distortion or retraction of the skin
- Pain or tenderness (Breast pain is most commonly due to benign conditions, and is not usually the first symptom of breast cancer. However, any unusual change or sensation in the breast tissue should be brought to the attention of a health care provider.)
- Nipple discharge
Mammogram screening is the best tool to detect early breast cancers or other breast abnormalities. We offer digital mammography for the clearest, most accurate images, to help with correct diagnosis. Our radiologists will review the images and discuss the results with you immediately. If the physician feels you need any additional assessment, treatment, or biopsy, you may be able to get it the same day or within a week. Ultrasound and MRI equipment also is available for the assessment of suspicious masses.
Breast and Ovarian Surveillance Service
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center features a Breast and Ovarian Surveillance Service BOSS to help patients understand their risks for developing breast cancer An expert team of physicians, genetic counselors and nurse practitioners is available to review family history and other risk factors to provide an individualized risk assessment. The service also offers clinical breast exams and can guide you on the best methods of prevention.
Women with a significant family history of breast cancer or others at high risk for developing breast cancer can take advantage of genetic counseling services, including testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations.