A little knowledge can go a long way in helping you understand your risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Once you learn your risk for these cancers, we hope you will talk to you doctor and develop a strategy to reduce your risk or detect these diseases at early, non-life-threatening stages.
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer. About 7 out of 100 women (or 7%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they turn 70 years old.
Ovarian cancer is far less common. About 1 out of 100 women (or 1%) will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer by age 70. Though it is less common than breast cancer, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
About 5–10% of breast and 10-15% of ovarian cancers are hereditary. These hereditary breast and ovarian cancers are caused by inherited changes in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
While breast and ovarian cancers are most common in older women (about 89% of breast cancers occur in women older than 45 years of age), they can and do occur in younger women. There are some important differences when these cancers do affect young women:
Every woman can benefit from learning the risk factors and symptoms of breast and ovarian cancers.
If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away.
If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.
If you have:
Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. See a doctor if you have any of these signs for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you.
The next time you visit the doctor, consider talking about what you have learned about breast and ovarian cancers.
Be sure to tell your doctor about your family history of cancer (especially breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, pancreatic, and prostate cancers) and about any other risk factors you may have.
If you need help collecting and organizing your family health history, use the U.S. Surgeon General's family health history portrait, https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/.
Together, you and your doctor can develop a personalized strategy to reduce your risk.
Sometimes breast cells become abnormal. These abnormal cells grow, divide, and create new cells that the body does not need. The extra cells form a mass called a tumor. Tumors that are not cancer are called "benign". These tumors usually stay in one spot in the breast and do not cause major health problems.
Other tumors are "malignant" and are cancer. When breast cancer first starts to develop, these tumors are generally too small to feel or notice. As they grow, the cancer can spread throughout the breast or to other parts of the body. This causes serious health problems and even death.
There are different kinds of breast cancer. The kind of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer.
For a more detailed explanation of what breast cancer is and the different types of breast cancer visit: National Cancer Institute Breast Cancer or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Breast Cancer. You may also read the What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer booklet from the National Cancer Institute.
Breast cancer symptoms can include:
Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see a doctor right away. The earlier breast cancer is found and treated, the more likely treatment will be effective.
It is a myth that breast cancer does not affect young women. The reality is that it can and does.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) provides statistics on cancer cases in the United States (https://nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/). The CDC reports that in 2010, there were 209,966 new cases of breast cancer in women. Of these new cases, 21,344 (about 10%) were in women younger than 45 years of age. Breast cancer in young women is more aggressive and harder to treat in some cases than breast cancers in older women.
Yes, you can get breast cancer even if it does not run in your family. Keep in mind that most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of breast cancer.
One of the most important things you can do to detect breast cancer is to be really familiar with your breasts. Your breasts can go through normal changes throughout your monthly cycle. Know what is normal for you so you will be able to detect a change.
Mammograms (x-rays of the breast) are the best method to detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Mammograms are recommended every two years for women 50-74 years of age.
However, women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer (such as women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation) may choose to begin having mammograms earlier and have them more often than other women. Talk to your doctor about screening recommendations that are right for you. Other breast cancer screening tests (such as breast MRI) may also be recommended for you.
The cost of screening mammograms varies by state and by facility, and the cost can depend on insurance coverage. However, most states have laws that require health insurance companies to reimburse all or part of the cost of mammograms. Women are encouraged to contact their mammography facility or their health insurance company for information about cost and coverage. The American Cancer Society provides information on state efforts to ensure mammograms are covered by health insurance: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/MoreInformation/BreastCancerEarlyDetection/breast-cancer-early-detection-paying-for-br-ca-screening.
Coverage of mammograms for breast cancer screening is mandated by the Affordable Care Act, which provides that these be given without a co-pay or deductible in plans that started after August 1, 2012. This does not apply to health plans that were in place before the law was passed (called grandfathered plans). You can find out the date your insurance plan started by contacting your health insurance plan administrator. Even grandfathered plans may still have coverage requirements based on state laws, which vary, and other federal laws (http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/breastcancerearlydetection/breast-cancer-early-detection-paying-for-br-ca-screening).
All women 40 years of age and older with Medicaid can get a screening mammogram each year (in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia). Medicaid will also pay for diagnostic mammograms (as often as medically necessary to make a diagnosis).
Talk to your doctor about your breast cancer risk if you are less than 40 years of age and covered by Medicaid. If you and your doctor agree that you are at high risk, talk with your doctor’s billing service about Medicaid coverage for earlier or more frequent exams and breast MRIs.
Federal programs offer some assistance to qualifying women who need breast screening and mammograms. Learn more about these programs:
Women can also check with their local hospital, health department, women's center, employers, or other community groups to find out how to access low-cost or free mammograms.