Young women need to be educated about breast health, better understand risk factors and learn how to advocate for their health. Creating healthy habits early is critical to improving early detection for young women which leads to better outcomes and less invasive treatment options.
Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast. A cancerous (malignant) tumour is a group of cancer cells that can grow into and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Cells in the breast sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to non-cancerous (benign) breast conditions such as cysts. They can also lead to non-cancerous tumours.
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Be aware that your breasts may have changes due to normal hormone fluctuations during menstruation, pregnancy and lactation. If these changes persist, it is important to raise them with your health practitioner.
Women who had breast cancer in the past have a higher risk of developing breast cancer again.
A family history of breast cancer means that one or more close blood relatives have or had breast cancer. Some families have more cases of breast cancer than would be expected by chance. Sometimes it is not clear whether the family’s pattern of cancer is due to chance, shared lifestyle factors, genes passed from parents to children or a combination of these factors.
The risk of developing breast cancer is higher if:
Having one first-degree relative with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. The more first-degree relatives with breast cancer, the greater the risk. The risk with second-degree relatives is not as much as the risk with first-degree relatives.
Genetic mutations are changes to a gene. Some gene changes can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Inherited gene mutations are passed on from a parent to a child. Only a small number of breast cancers (about 5%–10%) are caused by an inherited gene mutation.
The likelihood that breast or ovarian cancer is linked with an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation is highest in families that have:
Dense breasts have more connective tissue, glands and milk ducts than fatty tissue. Breast density is an inherited trait. Women with dense breast tissue have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women with little or no dense breast tissue.
Breast density can only be seen on a mammogram, but dense breasts also make a mammogram harder to read. On a mammogram, fatty tissue looks dark, while dense tissue looks white, like tumours, so it can hide a tumour.
Visit the Canadian Cancer Society to learn more about other risk factors that may contribute to a breast cancer diagnosis.