| Home | Article Database | Resources | Tools & Just for Fun | Search HY |

The Facts About Breast Cancer and Mammograms

Getting the facts about breast cancer and mammograms is an important step in taking care of your health. This pamphlet will help you to get the information that you need. It provides information on a woman's risk for breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute's recommendations about mammograms, and the benefits and limitations of the procedure.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in the United States. It is second only to lung cancer in cancer-related deaths. Approximately 180,000 new cases of breast cancer are estimated for 1997, and about 44,000 women are expected to die from the disease.

Who Is at Risk for Breast Cancer?

Simply being a woman and getting older puts you at some risk for breast cancer. Your risk for breast cancer continues to increase over your lifetime. Several known factors can further increase your risk for breast cancer. Most women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors such as a family history of the disease. Talk to your doctor about the known risk factors for breast cancer.

What factors can increase your risk for breast cancer?

One or more of the following conditions place a woman at higher than average risk for breast cancer:

  • personal history of a prior breast cancer
  • evidence of a specific genetic change that increases susceptibility to breast cancer (BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations)
  • mother, sister, daughter, or two or more close relatives, such as cousins, with a history of breast cancer (especially if diagnosed at a young age)
  • a diagnosis of a breast condition (i.e., atypical hyperplasia) that may predispose a woman to breast cancer, or a history of two or more breast biopsies for benign breast disease

Additional Factors Can Play A Role In A Woman's Risk For Breast Cancer

Women age 45 or older who have at least 75 percent dense tissue on a mammogram are at some increased risk. A slight increase in risk for breast cancer is associated with having a first birth at age 30 or older.

In addition, women who receive chest irradiation for conditions such as Hodgkin's disease at age 30 or younger, remain at higher risk for breast cancer throughout their lives.

Not having any of the above risk factors does NOT mean that you are "safe." The majority of women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease, nor do they fall into any other special high-risk category.

What Can You Do?

If you are in your 40s or older, get a mammogram on a regular basis, every 1 to 2 years. Talk with your doctor or nurse about planning your personal schedule for screening mammograms and breast exams. Gather as much information as you can about your family history of cancer, breast cancer, and screening mammograms. Call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service for more information about breast cancer and mammograms at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237). People with TTY equipment, dial 1-800-332-8615. For the latest information on cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute's website for patients and the public at http://rex.nci.nih.gov or CancerNet at http://cancernet.nci.nih.gov.

What Are the Benefits of Getting Mammograms?

A mammogram can find breast cancer before a lump can be felt. A mammogram is the best method available today to detect breast cancer early. Early detection of the disease may allow more treatment options.

What Are the Limitations*of Getting Mammograms?

Mammograms may miss cancer that is present. Mammograms may find something that turns out NOT to be cancer.

*These limitations occur more often in women under age 50.

To learn more about mammograms, call the National Cancer Institute's
Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
People with TTY equipment, dial 1-800-332-8615.

Information provided by NIH.