Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. Incidence tends to increase with age. About 95% of new cases occur in those who are 40 and older and 88% of breast cancer deaths occur in women 50 and older. Women in their 20s and 30s have the lowest incidence of breast cancer. Between 2007 and 2011, women between the ages of 20 and 34 represented only 1.8% of new breast cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend the following for young women with no known risk factors for breast cancer:
- Women in their 20s and 30s should have a breast exam by a health professional at least every 3 years as part of their regular health exam.
- Breast self-exams are an option for women starting in their 20s; women should report any changes they feel in their breasts to their healthcare provider.
- Because of the low incidence of breast cancer in women younger than 40, mammograms generally aren't recommended for those of average risk.
Family history and genetics can contribute to a high lifetime risk. Other risk factors for breast cancer include, for example, a personal history of breast cancer, obesity, beginning your period at a younger age, having dense breasts, and alcohol consumption.
Some of the important factors contributing to a high lifetime risk include:
- Carrying a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or having a close relative with the gene
- Having had chest radiation at a young age (between 10 and 30 years old)
- Certain family histories, such as multiple close relatives with breast or ovarian cancer
If you suspect you are at an increased risk for breast cancer, you should consult your healthcare provider and consider developing an individualized screening program.
Sign up for the American Cancer Society's Breast Cancer Screening Reminder
American Cancer Society: What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
ACS: Clinical Breast Exam
ACS: Breast Awareness and Self Exam
National Cancer Institute: Breast Cancer Screening
Sources Used in Current Review
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(2014 October 29). American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. American Cancer Society. Available online at http://www.cancer.org/healthy/findcancerearly/cancerscreeningguidelines/american-cancer-society-guidelines-for-the-early-detection-of-cancer through http://www.cancer.org. Accessed on 4/1/15.
Smith, R. et al. (8 January 2015). Cancer screening in the United States, 2015: A review of current American Cancer Society guidelines and current issues in cancer screening. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.21261/full through http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com. Accessed on 4/1/15.
Mayo Clinic Staff (20 November 2014). Breast cancer, risk factors. Mayo Clinic. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/basics/risk-factors/con-20029275 through http://www.mayoclinic.org. Accessed on 4/8/15.
Saslow, et al. (2007). American Cancer Society Guidelines for Breast Screening with MRI as an Adjunct to Mammography. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Available online at http://www.penncancer.org/pdf/MR%20BreastGline.pdf through http://www.penncancer.org. Accessed on 4/8/15.
(26 February 2015, Revised). What are the risk factors for breast cancer? American Cancer Society. Available online at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-risk-factors?sitearea= through http://www.cancer.org. Accessed on 4/8/15.