Breast Health: Risk Factors, Tips and Exam Recommendations

breast health

Did you know that over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer? Men are also at risk – 1 in 1,000 will develop breast cancer. And while white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer, African-American women are more likely to die from the disease.[1]

Rachel Choudhury, MSN, RN, CNE, curriculum and instruction specialist at Chamberlain College of Nursing, sheds light on other risk factors and shares tips to educate men and women so they can be proactive about their breast health.

Non-modifiable risk factors include:[2]

  • Age and gender -- As you get older, your risk of developing breast cancer increases. Most advanced breast cancer cases are found in women over age 50,[3] and breast cancer is more common in African-American women under 45 years of age.[1]
  • Family history of breast cancer -- You may also have a higher risk of breast cancer if you have a close relative who has been diagnosed with breast, uterine, ovarian, or colon cancer.
  • Genetics -- The most common gene defects are found in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Women with one of these defects have up to an 80 percent chance of getting breast cancer sometime during their life.
  • Menstrual cycle -- Women who started their menses early (before age 12) or went through menopause late (after age 55) have an increased risk of breast cancer.


Proactive tips to monitor breast health and reduce your risk of breast cancer include:

  1. Perform monthly breast self-exams (BSE), so you know what is normal in your breast tissue and detect any changes early
  2. Have a clinical breast exam (CBE) done by a health professional
  3. Schedule routine mammograms
  4. Maintain a healthy weight
  5. Get moving with regular physical activity during the day, balanced with restful sleep at night
  6. Eat a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat
  7. Limit alcohol intake and stay away from tobacco use
  8. Limit hormone replacement therapy to the lowest dose for the shortest period of time
  9. Limit exposure to chemicals/pollutants that may be in the environment, the foods you eat and products you use
  10. Know your family history and your risks

Recommendations for BSE:

Breast cancer screening exams allow for early identification of breast cancer and can increase your chance of survival. Mammography is the best screening tool for breast cancer, as it can detect cancer before signs and symptoms – such as a lump – are present.

Current recommendations are for women ages 20 to 39 to do monthly breast self-exams, with a clinical breast exam at least every three years.[4] Women 40 years of age and older should conduct monthly breast self-exams, annual clinical breast exams and annual mammograms.[5] The American Cancer Society recommends against MRI screening for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15 percent.[5] 

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice any of the following breast cancer symptoms:

  • Breast lump/mass or change in size of one breast *The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. [4]
  • Skin changes (swelling, thickening, redness, scaly, warmth, dimpling, indentation or other visible changes) in one breast[6]
  • Nipple changes (appearance, retraction, discharge, pain)
  • Swelling or mass in the armpit[7]


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