It's one of the most popular misconceptions. But 70% of diagnoses are believed to be sporadic, meaning there's no inherited component, says Julie R. Gralow, M.D., director of breast medical oncology at the : "That's why regardless of your medical history, it's critical to speak with your physician about a screening schedule that's appropriate for you."
While your doctor can provide personalized recommendations, identify patterns, and recommend additional screening, Dr. Gralow says that for those with a strong family history, you should begin screening at a young age, which could be as early as 25. The says your risk is higher if a first-degree relative was diagnosed, particularly if the breast cancer developed before the age of 50.
To be proactive, Lillie Shockney, R.N., B.S., administrative director of the , says women may want to start getting mammograms 10 years before the age of their relative's diagnosis. If there's no family history, the women start getting yearly mammograms at age 45. But again, it's best to talk to your doctor to determine what works for you.
Though white men are 100 times less likely to develop breast cancer than white women (and diagnosis is 70 times less common among black males than females), it is still possible for men to get breast cancer. In fact, that about 2,550 men will be diagnosed and approximately 480 will die from the disease in 2018.
Breast cancer is also typically discovered later in men — meaning it's often found at a more advanced stage — but research published in the found that men have a higher survival rate than women. That makes sense, given that male breast cancer is less than 1% of all breast cancer cases, Dr. Gralow says. "[Plus], men don't have estrogen and progesterone exposure, they don't lactate, and they have very few ducts and lobules, which is where breast cancer starts," she says. In other words, their risk is much lower.
Because we've been conditioned to look for lumps during self-exams, our fears automatically skyrocket if we feel one. But there's no reason to panic just yet. "The vast majority [of women] who feel a mass in their breast won't have cancer," says Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer for the .
In fact, 75% of the time a lump is something less serious, like a cyst or a benign non-cancerous growth, Dr. Brawley says. It could also be related to your menstrual cycle, says , M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Florida International University.
That said, if you find a lump, schedule a visit to the doctor as soon as possible. Your OB-GYN will want to perform a physical exam, and may decide to follow up with an ultrasound and/or mammogram if necessary.
Developing breast cancer is a possibility at any age, and while older women — particularly those — are at an elevated risk, more than 250,000 women living in the U.S. today were diagnosed before they turned 40, according to the (YSC).
Unfortunately, the odds are also stacked against those diagnosed young. When compared to older women, those who are diagnosed before 40 tend to face more aggressive cancers and lower survival rates, . Research that breast cancer before age 40 differs biologically from cancer faced by older women.
Plus, lump detection can be more difficult for younger women because they have denser breast tissue, Shockney says. "As we age, estrogen levels usually decrease, and density is replaced with fatty tissue that's easier to evaluate," she explains. That's why, no matter your age, if you notice a change in one of your breasts you should go get it checked out.
Sadly, it's not impossible. According to a study published in , breast cancer is the second most common malignancy affecting pregnancy and about 1 in 3000 pregnant women develop breast cancer.
Most breast cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, which is close to the armpit. This has lead some to speculate that deodorant must cause breast cancer. According to the , the widespread myth originated from an email that claimed cancer-causing substances within deodorants are absorbed into the skin, causing a high concentration of cancer-causing toxins. Researchers have debunked this in a number of studies, so you can continue to use your tube in peace.
There is no biological evidence of an association between wearing a bra — specifically an underwire bra — and an increased risk of breast cancer. A study published in studied more than 1,500 women and found no relationship between wearing a bra and increased breast cancer risk.
This is a common misperception, Shockney says. But, because the origins of your genes are split between your mother and father, you have to look at both sides of the family tree when .
First-degree relatives (a mother, sister, or daughter) are the most important in assessing your breast cancer risk level, but Dr. Runowicz says you also need to analyze your father's sisters and mother. Talking to your physician can determine how much screening you need and when. It can also help with the decision of whether to go through genetic testing.
A lump isn't the only change in your breast to watch out for, which is why experts want women to practice "breast awareness," a.k.a. paying attention to individual changes that are out of the norm for your usual breast shape, size, appearance, or feel, Shockney says.
Possible changes that Dr. Brawley says should prompt a doctor's visit include an area of the breast feels firmer or thicker, larger, more noticeable pores in one spot on your skin, or you find skin puckering, nipple inversion, or bloody or clear nipple discharge. It's also worth noting that, in (a rare but aggressive form), one area of the breast may develop a rash-like patch, swelling either in one spot or throughout the entire breast, and/or abnormal breast warmth.
The likelihood of cancer recurring in the other breast isn't as great as most women think. "For women who don't carry a breast cancer gene mutation (BRCA1 or BRCA2) — — the risk is only about 5% that they'll get cancer in the other breast," Shockney says.
Women who carry the gene mutation, or whom have a significant family history of breast cancer, often opt for a bilateral mastectomy to remove both breasts as a preventative measure and to decrease their anxiety about recurrence, Shockney says. That's because the risk of cancer appearing in the opposite breast is about 40% higher in this scenario, she explains, as carriers of the gene mutation are in general.