Learn More about Breast Cancer and Early Detection

As you may know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There’s no better way to observe this than to get the facts about breast cancer and understand the importance of early detection.


Breast cancer is the second-most diagnosed cancer in women today, with one out of eight women in the U.S. affected. A mammogram is the most effective and convenient way to screen for a tumor. It can detect a tumor up to two years before you or your doctor can feel it.

Starting around the age of 40, most women should have a mammogram at least once a year. Women who are at higher risk for breast cancer should have an annual mammogram, as well as an MRI, starting at age 30. 

If breast cancer is found early, it is treatable by a wider array of options and gives women a much better chance for survival. When detected at an early stage, patients have a 93 percent-plus survival rate in the first five years. 

Black women at higher risk

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control reports about 237,000 cases of breast cancer among women. Over the last decade, while the risk of getting breast cancer hasn’t changed for women overall, the risk has increased for black, Asian, and Pacific Islander women. Black women overall have a higher risk of death from cancer than white women.

Symptoms of breast cancer

Different people have different warning signs of breast cancer. Some do not have any symptoms at all. But if you notice any of the following signs, you should see your doctor immediately.

  • Lump in breast or armpit
  • Any change in size or shape of breast
  • Pain in any area of breast or nipple
  • Thickening or swelling in breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin on breast or in nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood 

Risk factors

There are a number of known risk factors for breast cancer. While these may not be direct links to breast cancer, you should talk to your doctor about the following to gauge your own risk:

Past history of breast cancer
If you’ve already had a tumor in one breast, you are at a higher risk of developing cancer in the other breast.

Family history of breast cancer
You are at a higher risk of breast cancer if your mother, sister, and/or daughter has had breast cancer, especially if they had it at a young age (before the age of 40). Your risk is also higher if you have other relatives who have had breast cancer.

Childbearing history
The later a woman gives birth in her life to a first child, the greater her risk of breast cancer. Other factors that increase risk include:

  • Having your period at an early age (before the age of 12)
  • Having menopause at a later age (after age 55)
  • Never given birth

Breast density
Women with more connective tissue than fatty tissue in their breasts are seen as having dense breasts. This can increase the risk of breast cancer and also make it harder for a mammogram to detect a tumor.

As women grow older, the chance of getting breast cancer increases. Almost 80 percent of all breast cancer cases are found in women 50 and older.

Hereditary/genetic factors
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genes everyone has that help fight cancer. When these undergo changes, or mutations, women who have inherited these changes are at a higher risk for breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer.

Reducing your risk

Although a number of factors are beyond your control, you can manage some factors to help lower your risk. These include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Low/no alcohol consumption
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Breastfeeding children
  • Consulting your doctor if taking hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives

Staying watchful

While getting a mammogram is important, it is also a good practice to perform a self-exam at least once a month.  This way you can be familiar with how your breasts look and feel and be able to alert your doctor if you spot any changes.

Overall, early detection is the best way to address the threat of breast cancer. Start taking the steps you need today so that you can celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month for many more years to come.

Diana Wilson

Diana Wilson, M.D. F.A.C.O.G.

Specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology

Dr. Diana Wilson is an Assistant Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is board-certified and earned her medical degree from Kansas University and completed her OBGYN residency at Truman Medical Center. She has many years of hands on experience and prior to joining Morehouse School of Medicine she was in private practice.

Dr. Wilson treats a wide range of obstetrical and gynecological problems. She is trained to treat high risk and twin pregnancy as well as issues that affect the adolescent to the elderly patient. Her special interests are in the area of management of menorrhagia, treatment for uterine fibroids, non-hormonal and hormonal options for symptomatic menopause, family planning, short and long term contraception, permanent sterilization and adolescent care. Dr. Wilson performs in office procedures and minimally invasive surgery.

Learn more about Dr. Wilson.