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Breast Cancer 101: Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment, & Support

Finding a lump in your breast is life-changing. You’ll have concerns and fear, but most of all, you’ll have questions about breast cancer. And you’ll want support from an expert and compassionate care team.

Women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer. And, men can get it too. With regular monitoring, you can catch breast cancer early. And the good news is, the earlier it’s caught, the easier it is to treat.

These factors increase your risk of getting it:

  • Age (risk increases as you get older, especially over age 50)
  • Gender (women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men)
  • Race (in the U.S., White, non-Hispanic women have the highest overall rate, while African-American women have a higher incidence)
  • Personal history of cancer
  • Family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer
  • Periods started earlier in life (before the age of 12)
  • No children or had children later in life
  • Using hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone)
  • Drinking alcohol, especially if excessive
  • Lack of physical activity

Catching Cancer Early

It’s never too early to start checking yourself. Make yourself familiar with how your chest looks — that way you can be aware of any changes.

Symptoms of breast cancer can include:

  • Swelling in part or all of the breast (even without a lump)
  • Skin dimpling (looks like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple turns inward called nipple retraction)
  • Skin of the nipple or breast is red, dry, flaking, or thickened
  • Discharge from nipple discharge (not breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone

Although many people find out they have cancer when they find a lump in their chest, many others don’t have any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get screened.

Screening Saves Lives

Mammograms are an important part of the screening process. Getting them regularly is an important step in catching cancer early. And, mammograms can be personalized for you if you’re high-risk or have dense breast tissue.

We’re also getting better and better at detecting breast cancer. New techniques, like 3D mammograms, are improving the accuracy of these tools.

If you’re at high risk or have dense breast tissue, other tools, like MRI or ultrasound, might better detect breast cancer. It’s important to discuss options with your provider to make sure you’re getting the best screening possible.

History, Genetics Play a Role

A family history of breast cancer can mean you’re at a higher risk. Your risk is higher if your mother, sister, daughter (first-degree relative), or multiple family members on either side of the family have had it.

Some people might be more likely to get breast cancer because of their genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are gene mutations that can increase the likelihood that you’ll develop breast cancer. A family history of cancer could be a sign that one of these gene mutations runs in your family.

Seeing a genetic counselor could uncover a need to be especially watchful.

Getting Support

Getting a diagnosis or being a caregiver to someone with cancer can be frustrating and overwhelming. No matter where you are in your health journey, it’s important to know that you’re not alone.

Support groups can help you learn from and feel connected to other folks who are going through the same thing as you.

Read Our Breast Cancer Posts

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. At UVA Health, you’ll find expert care from a team that provides the kind of support and nurturing you need.

And, this Breast Cancer 101 guide can help inform your journey with stories of folks who have been diagnosed, have gone through treatment, and have survived their breast cancer.

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