Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the tissue of the breast. Both women and men can get breast cancer, but it is much more common in women. Most breast cancers are found in women 50 years old or older, but breast cancer can also affect younger women as well. About 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
Some young women are at a higher risk for getting breast cancer at an early age compared with other women their age. If you are a woman under age 45, you may have a higher risk if—
- You have close relatives (parents, siblings, or children) who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer when they were younger than 45, especially if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.
- You have changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), or have close relatives with these changes.
- You have an Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
- You were treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.
- You have had breast cancer or certain other breast health problems such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia, or atypical lobular hyperplasia.
- You have been told that you have dense breasts on a mammogram.
If you’re a woman in this age group, it is important that you—
- Know how your breasts normally look and feel. If you notice a change in the size or shape of your breast, feel pain in your breast, have nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood), or other symptoms, talk to a doctor right away.
- Talk to your doctor if you have a higher risk. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or other risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about ways to manage your risk. If your risk is high, your doctor may suggest that you get genetic counseling and be tested for changes, called mutations, in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Your doctor may also talk to you about getting mammograms earlier and more often than other women, whether other screening tests might be right for you, and medicines or surgeries that can lower your risk.
- Limit Alcohol consumption. The general recommendation is to limit yourself to less than one drink per day, as even small amounts can increase risk.
- Don’t smoke. Accumulating evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women.
- Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer.
For more information about how to conduct a self-breast exam, check out our Breast Exam Ever! A fun self-exam guide from I Heart Guts.