A Banner Publication
October 12, 2006 – No. 2
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The female breast contains lobes, which are made up of smaller sacs called lobules in which milk is produced. Thin tubes called ducts carry the milk from the lobules to the nipple when a woman is breastfeeding. The breast also contains vessels that carry clear fluid or lymph to small, round organs called lymph nodes.

Most breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules. When breast cancer spreads, it travels through the lymph nodes to other organs — usually the bones, liver, lungs, and brain.

Source: National Cancer Institute.

Breast Cancer RISK FACTORS

A risk factor is a characteristic that increases a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer. Having one or more risk factors is not a guarantee that you will get the disease. In fact, many women with multiple risk factors never get breast cancer. However, having no identifiable risk factor other than gender or age does not make a women immune to breast cancer. Some of the major risk factors are:

A woman’s risk of breast cancer increases with age. Almost 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 50.

Gene mutations, especially in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, account for almost 10% of breast cancer cases.

Family history
Having a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer doubles a woman’s risk for the disease.

Personal history
A woman with breast cancer has a greater chance of developing cancer in the other breast or at a different location in the same breast.

Benign breast disease
Certain breast changes, non-cancerous conditions in which cells look abnormal and are increased in number, increase a woman’s breast cancer risk.

The important issue is to know your personal risk factors and maintain a schedule of regular screenings to detect breast cancer in its early stage.

For additional risk factors and information, please refer to the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org, or call 1-800-ACS-2345.


Although a new lump or mass is the most common sign of breast cancer, in inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, the breast appears infected, and often, no lump is present. Symptoms of breast cancer may include

  • A lump in the breast or armpit
  • Pain in the nipple
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Turning inward or flattening of the nipple
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Swelling, warmth, and redness of the breast with pitting of the skin (like the skin of an orange)
  • A bruise or rash on the breast
  • Persistent itching
  • Thickened areas of skin
  • Change in color of the skin around the nipple

Sources: National Cancer Institute, “What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer,” Sept. 2005, MD Anderson Cancer Center, “CancerWise,” August 2006

Breast Cancer SCREENING 101

Early detection increases the success of treatment

  • Start yearly mammograms (x-ray of the breast) at age 40
  • Start yearly clinical breast exams at age 40 (every 3 years beginning at age 20)
  • Perform breast self-examinations (BSE) to become familiar with how your breasts normally feel in order to detect changes*
  • Talk with your doctor about the benefits of earlier screening if you are at high risk

Source: American Cancer Society

* For interactive instructions in BSE visit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation at www.komen.org or call (800) 462-9273.