Microscopic view of a breast cancer cell.

In the US, only skin cancer affects more women than breast cancer. While breast cancer awareness, advocacy and research have greatly improved breast cancer survival rates, early detection through breast cancer screening remains the most effective and accessible way to save lives.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of tumor that forms in the cells of the breast. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it overwhelmingly affects more women. The most common symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • A lump in breast tissue
  • Changes in the skin of the breast, often marked by dimpling or discoloration
  • Peeling or flaking near the nipple
  • Redness of the skin
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast

The Causes of Breast Cancer

There are several hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors that contribute to an increased risk of breast cancer. However, researchers cannot explain while some women with no risk factors develop the disease. Like many types of cancers, breast cancer is likely caused by a complex mix of factors unique to each individual.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Some of these risk factors are hereditary, though many impactful risk factors are avoidable through healthy lifestyle choices.

Inherited (Hereditary) Genetic Risk Factors

Roughly 5-10% of women who develop the disease possess at least one of several known breast cancer genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are both linked to breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Women with a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer are considered at a higher risk of developing the disease themselves. Most doctors will recommend genetic counseling to help determine the benefits of genetic testing.

Other factors that increase the risk of breast cancer include:

  • Age. Older women are more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Other breast conditions. Women with other types of breast disease or conditions, such as atypical hyperplasia, are also more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Obesity. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Early menstruation. Women who start their period before the age of 12 have also been found to develop breast cancer more often than their peers.
  • Early menopause. Women who begin menopause later in life are more likely to receive a breast cancer diagnosis.
  • Having children in your 30s. Giving birth to their first child over the age of 30 can also increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Alcohol consumption. Drinking is a contributor to breast cancer risk as well as many other types of cancer.

Breast Cancer Prevention Tips

The key to breast cancer prevention is be aware of your risk factors. Anyone with a family history of breast cancer or other types of cancer should put an added emphasis on avoiding the lifestyle and environmental risk factors noted above and to seek frequent screenings. Tell your doctor about your family history of cancers or other diseases and advocate for breast cancer screenings.

  • Self-examination. Self-inspection is an excellent way to notice subtle changes in breast size or shape early. Here’s how to conduct a self-examination.
  • Limit alcohol intake. Reduce your drinking as much as possible or, better yet, don’t drink.
  • Exercise often. Shoot for 30 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Avoid being overweight. Maintaining a healthy body weight greatly reduces the risk of breast cancer and myriad other diseases. Talk to your doctor to establish a healthy body weight and strategies to achieve and maintain that weight.
  • Eat healthily. Eating a healthy, balanced diet based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of cancer.

Breast Cancer Statistics

  • About 1 in 8 US women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • Roughly 287,850 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2022.
  • About 43,250 women are expected to die of breast cancer in 2022.
  • Breast cancer is more common in Black women than white women, while breast cancer rates tend to be lower in Asian, Hispanic and Native American women.
  • The risk of a breast cancer diagnosis doubles if a woman has a mother, sister, or daughter who is diagnosed.
  • About 2,500-3,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the US.
  • A man’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is roughly 1 in 833.

Breast Cancer FAQs

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about breast cancer, your risk factors, your needs for screenings or changes to your breast size or shape. Early identification is the best way to reduce complications from a breast cancer diagnosis.

Can men get breast cancer?

Breast cancer can affect both genders, but men have a much lower risk than women. The lifetime odds of breast cancer for men is 1 in 833 compared to 1 in 8 for women.

What does breast cancer feel like?

Breast cancer tumors are often painless, hard lumps. However, other tumors can be soft, painful, or tender. Tumors can also be expressed as swelling, without a specific hard mass. Report any changes to your breast shape or size to your doctor immediately.

What percentage of breast cancer biopsies are cancer?

Of the 1 million breast biopsies conducted per year, roughly 20% will result in a cancer diagnosis.

When do most women get breast cancer?

The median age of women diagnosed with cancer is 62 years old.

Is breast cancer curable?

Breast cancer is not curable, but it is treatable.

Make Cancer Prevention A Priority

Join Less Cancer in making breast cancer prevention a priority in the US and in more than 40 countries around the globe. Learn more about how we do our work and consider supporting our work with a donation. Together, we can reduce the rate of breast cancer diagnosis in the US and support more healthy, active women at every age.