According to BreastCancer.org, about 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point. The disease accounts for about 30% of all new cancers in women annually. Men can also get breast cancer, although their lifetime risks are much lower at about 1 in 833. But genetic screening for breast cancer and other modern tests have turned it into a highly survivable condition. Here is what you need to know from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms

Breast cancer may or may not show symptoms; many possible symptoms could also indicate other health conditions. But it’s important to know for sure what you are dealing with, so see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of the following:

  • A lump in the breast or armpit
  • Reddish or flaking skin on the breast
  • A retracted nipple
  • Blood or fluid discharge from the nipple
  • Breast pain
  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast

Screenings

The CDC recommends that all women aged 50 to 74 at average risk get a mammogram every two years. But if you have a family history of breast cancer, you may need to be screened sooner and/or more frequently.

Note that regular breast self-exams are no longer recommended. The breasts undergo normal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle, making it difficult for the average woman to detect clinically significant changes. But if you choose to examine your breasts, always err on the side of caution and let your doctor know about any changes or unusual symptoms you spot.

Genetic Screening for Breast Cancer

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend genetic testing to look for genetic mutations that could indicate a particularly high risk for breast cancer. According to the CDC, this type of testing looks for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in these genes may make you more likely to inherit breast, ovarian or other cancers from family members who previously had these diseases. This type of screening may also include genetic counseling to help you and your family understand the results, implications, and next steps.

Risk factors

Many factors could make you more likely to develop breast cancer. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Personal history, including menstrual cycles, childbirth, and previous radiation treatments to the chest
  • Family history
  • Breast density
  • Age (the risk rises over age 50)
  • Exposure to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol)
  • Certain genetic mutations
  • Use of hormone replacement therapies

Prevention

Although you can’t change many of the risk factors above, you can still lower your risk of developing breast cancer. Physical fitness and smart lifestyle choices are among the best ways to prevent all chronic illnesses, including cancers.

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Talk to your doctor about any medications that could increase your risks

Ask your doctor whether your personal and family histories mean you should get a genetic screening for breast cancer or start general screenings in your 40s. Otherwise, plan to get a baseline mammogram at 50 and additional screenings every two years unless instructed otherwise by your physician. Taking control of your health and focusing on prevention, early detection and treatment are the best ways to maximize your chances of a long and healthy life.