Risk Factors & Testing

Risk Factors

Doctors don’t know why one woman gets breast cancer and another doesn’t, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk and help make sure that any cancer can be detected early. Some of the most common risk factors for breast cancer are described below. Note that even if you have several of these factors, you may not develop breast cancer.

Risk Factors You Can’t Change

Gender: Breast cancer is far more prevalent among women.

Age: The risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age.

Menstrual periods: Your risk increases if you began menstruating before age 12 or reached menopause after age 55.

Personal history of breast cancer: If you’ve already had breast cancer, you’re at increased risk of getting additional tumors in either breast.

Family history of breast cancer: If your mother, daughter or sister has had breast cancer, you are at greater risk. But note that most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.

Genetics: You may be at risk for inherited breast cancer if you have abnormalities or mutations in breast cancer gene one (BRCA1) or breast cancer gene two (BRCA2). About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.

Race and ethnicity: White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than are African-American women, although African-American women are more likely to die of this cancer. Asian, Hispanic and Native-American women have a lower risk.

Previous radiation therapy: You are at significantly increased risk for breast cancer if you are a woman who had radiation therapy for another cancer, such as Hodgkin disease, when you were a child or young adult.

Lifestyle Factors

Delayed childbirth: Your risk increases if you never gave birth or had your first child after age 30.

Hormone replacement therapy: Studies have shown a link between long-term hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer.

Alcohol: Drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk.

Overweight: Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk, especially for postmenopausal women.

Screening & Diagnosis

Screening Tests

Screening tests identify signs of breast cancer that might otherwise go unnoticed. When breast cancer is found and treated early, a woman has more treatment options and a better chance of a cure. The following tests are recommended as a routine part of every woman’s healthcare.

Breast Self-Examination

Your healthcare provider can show you how to effectively examine your own breasts.  When you are familiar with how your breasts normally feel, you are much more likely to identify lumps or other changes that may be symptoms of breast cancer.

Clinical Breast Examination

This physical test is performed by a physician or nurse practitioner, often as a part of an annual check-up. The American Cancer Society recommends that women in their 20s and 30s have a clinical breast exam every three years.

Screening Mammogram

A mammogram uses X-rays to produce an image of the breast and to detect abnormalities in the breast that may be too small to see or feel. On average, mammograms detect 80 to 90 percent of breast cancers in women without symptoms. The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 or older have a screening mammogram every year. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) was the first in the region offer digital mammography, a technique that captures X-ray images digitally for a more accurate diagnosis. Studies have shown that digital mammography detects up to 28 percent more cancers than traditional mammography. Diagnostic Tests

Once breast cancer is suspected, the following diagnostic tests may be used.

Diagnostic Mammogram

A diagnostic mammogram is used to evaluate a woman with a breast problem or symptom or an abnormal finding on a screening mammogram. It usually includes additional views of one or both breasts.


Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to form an image that is displayed on a video screen and photographed for analysis. Because of the different ways various tissue components interact with sound waves, ultrasound can often reveal whether a lump is solid or a fluid-filled, non-cancerous cyst. As a result, breast ultrasound is generally used to examine a suspicious area found on a mammogram.


When a screening or other diagnostic test finds an abnormality that could be cancer, a biopsy may be performed. In a biopsy, a doctor removes a sample of the suspicious area which is then examined under a microscope. A biopsy is the only way to tell if cancer is really present. There are several types of biopsies.

Fine Needle Biopsy

A fine-needle biopsy involves the extraction of fluid or cells from a lump that can be felt or seen with ultrasound or on a mammogram. A local anesthetic numbs the area before the needle is inserted. If you have a cyst, fluid will come out and the lump will disappear. If the needle extracts cells, the sample is inspected by a pathologist to determine if it is benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

Core Biopsy

A core biopsy is nearly the same as the fine needle biopsy, but a larger needle is used to remove a small cylinder of breast tissue.

Stereo-tactic Needle Biopsy

This type of biopsy is done when the lump is so small that the doctor cannot insert the biopsy needle accurately. In this procedure, you lie face down on a special table with an opening that lets the breast hang down. A mammogram shows the location of the lump and a computer guides the needle.

Surgical Biopsy

In this type of biopsy, all or part of a breast lump is removed surgically for microscopic examination to determine whether cancer is present.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

SCCA has long been a leader in the diagnosis and care of breast cancer, most recently in the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a diagnostic tool.  According to a study led by SCCA’s Dr. Constance D. Lehman, MD, PhD, MRI scans of women who were diagnosed with cancer in one breast detected over 90 percent of cancers in the other breast that were missed by mammography and clinical breast exam at initial diagnosis. In conjunction with this news, the American Cancer Society announced new recommendations for use of MRI for women at increased risk for breast cancer. An expert panel, of which Lehman is a member, recommended annual screening using MRI in addition to mammography for women with a 20 to 25 percent or greater lifetime risk of the disease. For more information about the use of MRI as a diagnostic tool for breast cancer, see magnetic resonance imaging in our digital mammography section.

Exciting New Research for Early Detection

Early detection through blood test will hopefully become standard practice. 


Interesting Prevention Article


This Video is a MUST WATCH for ALL Women
 and needs to be shared with EVERY woman you know.

IBC, Informatory Breast Cancer, and it isn't detectable in mammograms, and it's a killer if not detected early.