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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women.

Incidence tends to increase with age.

About 95% of new cases occur in those who are 40 and older and 88% of breast cancer deaths occur in women 50 and older. Women in their 20s and 30s have the lowest incidence of breast cancer. Between 2007 and 2011, women between the ages of 20 and 34 represented only 1.8% of new breast cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Recommendations

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends the following for young women with no known risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Women in their 20s and 30s should have a breast exam by a health professional at least every 3 years as part of their regular health exam.
  • Breast self-exams are an option for women starting in their 20s; women should report any changes they feel in their breasts to their healthcare provider.

Because of the low incidence of breast cancer in women younger than 40, mammograms generally aren't recommended for those of average risk.

Risk

Family history and genetics can contribute to a high lifetime risk. Other risk factors for breast cancer include, for example, a personal history of breast cancer, obesity, beginning your period at a younger age, having dense breasts, and alcohol consumption.

Some of the important factors contributing to a high lifetime risk include:

  • Carrying a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or having a close relative with the gene
  • Having had chest radiation at a young age (between 10 and 30 years old)
  • Certain family histories, such as multiple close relatives with breast or ovarian cancer

If you suspect you are at an increased risk for breast cancer, you should consult your healthcare provider and consider developing an individualized screening program.

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