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About Breast Cancer

There has been great progress over the last 30 years in identifying risk factors for breast cancer. At this time, researchers agree on many factors that increase breast cancer risk and some factors that lower risk. Some of these risk factors affect risk a great deal and others by only a small amount.

While we have learned a lot, we still do not understand what causes breast cancer to develop at a certain time in a certain person. It's likely a combination of risk factors (many of which are still unknown) that together make cells in the breast become cancerous. But, exactly why a certain combination of factors might cause cancer in one person, but not in another is still unclear.

Although there are steps we can all take to lower risk, no one has full control over whether he/she gets breast cancer. Many risk factors are still unknown and many are simply out of our control (such as getting older or having a family history of breast cancer).

However, leading a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk of breast cancer. And, knowing what factors may increase your risk can help you work with your health care provider to address any concerns and develop a breast health plan that is right for you. 

Breast Self Awareness Guide

Susan G. Komen for the Cure® recommends that you:

1. Know your risk

    * Talk to your family to learn about your family health history
    * Talk to your provider about your personal risk of breast cancer

2. Get screened

    * Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk
    * Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk
    * Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40

3. Know what is normal for you

See your health care provider right away if you notice any of these breast changes:

    * Lump, hard knot or thickening
    * Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening
    * Change in the size or shape of the breast
    * Dimpling or puckering of the skin
    * Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
    * Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
    * Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
    * New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

4. Make healthy lifestyle choices

    * Maintain a healthy weight
    * Add exercise into your routine
    * Limit alcohol intake

Women should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel. Knowing what is normal for you may enable you to note changes in your breast in the time between your yearly mammogram and/or clinical breast exam.  Breast self-exam (BSE) is a tool that may help you become familiar with the way your breasts normally look and feel.  BSE involves looking at and feeling your breasts. Women who practice BSE should also be sure to get mammograms and clinical breast exams at the appropriate age. BSE should not be substituted for these screening tests. For more information on BSE and screening methods, visit Susan G. Komen for the Cure: Early Detection & Screening.