As you probably know, doing a monthly self-exam is an important part of protecting your breast health. A yearly exam by your doctor also is an important component of breast health screening. When you are in your 20s, these should be key parts of your breast care routine.
When you are in your 30s, talk to your doctor about your risks for breast cancer. If you are at high risk, your doctor may suggest you be screened, probably by getting a mammogram. If your risk is normal, you should get your first mammogram at 35. Then you should have annual mammograms beginning at age 40.
There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to the development of breast cancer. Among them:
- Family history: If family members-such as a mother, sister or daughter-have had breast cancer, your risk is increased.
- Genetic factors: There are some inherited causes, including the mutations of certain genes. If you are concerned, you can be tested to see if the genetic problems are present in your body.
- Age: Though it varies, usually only 10 to 15 percent of breast cancer patients are under the age of 45. Most are over the age of 60.
- Motherhood: Women who have never had children seem to be at an increased risk for breast cancer. Also, women who have had children after the age of 35 seem to be at increased risk. However, breast-feeding seems to help lower the risk.
- Weight: Excess weight can lead to high levels of estrogen-especially after menopause-and increased estrogen appears to be linked to breast cancer. There also seems to be a connection to high body fat around the waist.
- Alcohol: Women who drink alcohol in excess-more than one drink a day-are reported to have a higher risk of breast cancer.
You should also tell your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Lumps felt in or on the breast
- Change in the appearance of a nipple
- General pain on or in the breast
- A breast that suddenly feels hard, warm or tender
- A change in the size, shape or color of the breast
- A breast that is irritated or itchy
- Discharge (other than breast milk) from a nipple