After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States. The greatest risk factors for developing breast cancer are being female and increasing age.
Most patients diagnosed with breast cancer, 75 to 85 percent, have no family history or other risk factors. While men can develop breast cancer, it is 100 times more common in women. Breast cancer is rare in women younger than 30. By your 70s, the risk approaches 1 in 8.
Although it is more common as people get older, one in six women diagnosed with breast cancer will be in her 40s. Studies have shown that regular mammograms reduce breast cancer deaths by 35 percent in women age 40 and older. Therefore, many major medical groups, including the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging, continue to recommend that all women begin getting yearly mammograms at age 40.
There is a point in every woman’s life when it is reasonable to stop getting annual mammograms and to only seek medical attention if there is a problem. In general, women should continue to get a yearly mammogram if they are in overall good health and they are expected to live 10 years or more.
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Routine annual screening mammography is sufficient for patients at average risk. However, there are women who are considered at increased risk for breast cancer who benefit from beginning screening mammography prior to age 40. Additional screening tests, such as breast MRI, also may be warranted.
If your risk is 20 percent or greater, you are considered at high risk for developing breast cancer. Women in the high-risk category include those with a known BRCA gene mutation (or those having a first-degree relative — mother, sister or daughter — with a mutation), women with a strong family history of breast cancer, and women who received chest radiation therapy at a young age (younger than 30).
A woman’s risk of breast cancer doubles if she has a first-degree relative who had breast cancer. In this situation, it is recommended to begin annual screening mammography 10 years younger than your relative’s age at diagnosis.
Breast cancer risk may be determined by several methods. If you are concerned that you may be at increased risk, talk to your doctor about your options.
Dr. Angela Moore, a breast radiologist, is medical director of Baptist Health Lexington Breast Imaging.