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 College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 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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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. 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. 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=. Accessed on 4/8/15.
American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms. Available online at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/breastcancerearlydetection/breast-cancer-early-detection-acs-recs. Accessed November 2015.
Kevin C. Oeffinger, MD et al. Breast Cancer Screening for Women at Average Risk: 2015 Guideline Update From the American Cancer Society. JAMA. 2015;314(15):1599-1614. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.12783. Available online at http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2463262. Accessed November 2015.