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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A by-the-numbers look at disease

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Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon

A breast cancer awareness ribbon is on display on the field during Sunday's NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Football Team in Landover, Md.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here's a by-the-numbers look at the disease that affects 1 in 8 American women.


Risk factors

  • Being a woman
  • Getting older
  • Inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes: A woman with the inherited BRCA gene mutation has about a 70% chance of getting breast cancer by age 80.
  • Having a family history of breast cancer
  • Having a personal history of breast cancer
  • Having dense breast tissue
  • Other breast conditions
  • Starting menstruation early
  • Going through menopause after 55
  • Having radiation to your chest
  • Exposure to synthetic estrogen

An experiment suggests that trimming dietary fat and eating more fruits and vegetables may lower a woman's risk of dying of breast cancer.

Lifestyle risks

  • Drinking alcohol: Two to three drinks per day increases the risk of breast cancer by 20%
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active
  • Not having children
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Hormone therapy after menopause
  • Using birth control

Signs & symptoms

  • Lumps or a mass in the breast
  • Swelling
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction
  • Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge

Types of breast cancer

The type of breast cancer is determined by the specific cells in the breast that are affected.

Most breast cancers are carcinomas. Carcinomas are tumors that start in the epithelial cells that line organs and tissues throughout the body. Sometimes, an even more specific term is used:

Noninvasive cancers stay within the milk ducts or lobules in the breast. They do not grow into or invade normal tissues within or beyond the breast. Noninvasive cancers are sometimes called carcinoma in situ (“in the same place”) or pre-cancers.

Invasive cancers do grow into healthy tissues. Most breast cancers are invasive.


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Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute,, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Mayo Clinic, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



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