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Breast Cancer 101: Everything You Need to Know

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Breast Cancer 101: Everything You Need to Know

Understanding and Addressing Breast Cancer

Second to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting American women, with 1 in 8 women developing breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. With such high statistics, it's essential that women arm themselves with the knowledge that can help them recognize the warning signs early on to receive effective treatment.

In light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we're here to share everything you need to know about this common form of cancer.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Like many chronic health conditions, there are factors that can leave someone at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Knowing these factors can help your women’s health care team determine when you should start breast cancer screenings and how often you should have them.


Although anyone can develop breast cancer, women are at the highest risk of developing it. In fact, being a woman is the number one risk factor when it comes to breast cancer, with 99% of cancer cases being found in women.


Age is another significant factor when it comes to the risk of developing most forms of cancer, including breast cancer. Most cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women over the age of 55.

Dense Breast Tissue

While fibrous and glandular breast tissue is fairly common, it also leaves these women at a higher risk of developing cancer than those with less dense tissue. It can also be more difficult to catch breast cancer in its early stages as this denser tissue appears white during mammograms, which is the same color as growths and tumors.

Family History

Having a family history of breast cancer also significantly increases your risk. If you have a parent or sibling who has previously been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are about 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than someone who does not.

Other risk factors

Other factors that can leave women at an increased risk of developing breast cancer include:

  • Having started menstrual periods before the age of 12.
  • Starting menopause after the age of 55.
  • Carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
  • Having a personal history of breast cancer.
  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer.
  • Having previous radiation therapy.

Early Detection

When it comes to the effective treatment of breast cancer, early detection is key. Here are a few ways you can look out for signs of concern.

Routine Mammograms

Having routine mammograms is one of the best ways that your OBGYN can look for abnormalities within your breast tissue that may not be causing symptoms yet. During a mammogram, a special machine is used to take X-ray images of your breast tissue to detect the early stages of tumor growth.

Benefits of 3-D Mammograms

Although traditional 2D mammograms can help with the detection of growths within the breast to a certain degree, 3D mammograms can be more accurate. Not only are they more clear than traditional mammograms, but they also result in:

  • Fewer false positives.
  • Earlier detection.
  • Clearer imaging.
How Often Should You Get a Mammogram?

Women of average risk should begin getting mammograms on this schedule:

  • Women between 40-44: Can begin screenings if they want to.
  • Women between 45-54: Should get mammograms annually.
  • Women older than 55: Should get mammograms every 2 years.

Practice Monthly Self-Exams

While getting mammograms during well-woman visits can be helpful, it’s also important for women to be familiar with what is and isn’t normal for their bodies. Practicing routine self-exams can help with early detection as well.

Regardless of age, all women should be checking their breast tissues for abnormalities at least once a month.

How to Perform a Self-Exam

When performing a self-exam, be sure to use the fingertips of your 3 middle fingers to gently massage your breast tissue moving from one side to the other, top to bottom. Apply pressure without hurting yourself to help you feel for any changes in your breast tissue.

Issues You’re Looking Out For

When examining your breast tissue, look out for the following physical signs and symptoms as they may suggest the presence of breast cancer:

  • Dimpling of the skin on the breast.
  • Changes in the color of your nipples.
  • Changes affecting only one breast.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk.
  • Lumps or knots in the breast or under the arm.
  • Thickening of your skin.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, be sure to reach out to your women’s health care team to discuss the next steps.

Coping With a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Getting diagnosed with breast cancer is nothing short of a life-changing event that can bring on stress, anxiety, and a barrage of negative emotions. From affecting how you feel physically to how you view yourself and the world around you, battling cancer can be emotionally exhausting.

Fortunately, there are ways that can help to support your mental health while you embark on this journey toward treatment, recovery, and wellness. Some of the best ways to cope emotionally with a breast cancer diagnosis include:

  • Leaning on loved ones for support.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Expressing what you want or need openly.
  • Talk with loved ones or a therapist.
  • Join a support group.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Try mindfulness meditation.
  • Learn more about your specific condition.
  • Talk with your doctor about concerns.
  • Learn more about possible courses of treatment.

Women’s Health Services and Diagnostic Imaging in Macomb, Illinois

MDH focuses on technology to offer you the best in medical imaging. Digital images are viewed and distributed using the picture archive communication system (PACS).

To learn more about our women’s health services, visit our website or give us a call at (309) 833-4101.