What Everyone Should Know About Breast Cancer

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. During this observance, special attention is drawn to the impact breast cancer has on patients and families.Advocates use this month to educate the public about breast cancer and early detection, and encourage all to receive breast cancer screenings.

Breast cancer is caused by a malignant tumor in the breast. These tumors develop when breast cells grow abnormally and out of control. In 2015, it is expected that doctors will diagnose approximately 300,000 new cases of breast cancer, primarily in women, as the disease rarely affects men. 

Risk Factors

There are certain factors that increase or decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. Some of the factors that may increase risk include:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Family history (including father or brother with prostate or colon cancer)
  • Alcohol use

Factors that may help to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular physical activity
  • Pregnancy before age 35
  • First menstrual cycle after age 14
  • Breastfeeding

Early Detection 

Early detection for breast cancer is crucial. As with many other conditions, the sooner the disease is detected, the higher the chances are for successful treatment.

Breast exams are a vital part of early detection. Women should administer monthly self-exams, as well ensure that they are receiving routine clinical breast exams, which include mammograms. The guidelines for clinical breast examinations are as follows:

  • Age 20-29: Every 3 years
  • Age 30-39: Every 1-3 years (depending on risk factors)
  • Age 40 and older: Every year

Symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • New lump or mass formed in the breast
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Skin irritation of the breast or nipple
  • Nipple discharge that is not breast milk
  • Pain in either breast or nipple
  • Inward turning of the nipple


Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works