Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Signs, symptoms, risk factors and prevention

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the CDC, each year in the U.S., 240,000 women get breast cancer, and 42,000 women die from it.

Now, the American Cancer Society has the number of new cases for 2023 closer to 300,000.

Dr. Elizabeth Moorehead, a radiologist at the breast center at St. David's Medical Center in Austin, joined FOX 7's Rebecca Thomas to discuss more.


REBECCA THOMAS: Dr. Moorehead, aside from being a woman, what are the main risk factors for breast cancer?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: The risk factors are age, obesity and there are certain family history risks. Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to have breast cancer genes as well.

REBECCA THOMAS: When you talk about age, at what age? The older you are, the increased risk?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: Yes, that's right.

REBECCA THOMAS: So women over the age of…?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: It increases over the age of 50, over the age of 60 and there's still more over the age of 70. But I have to say that, in my practice, I feel like I am seeing it in younger and younger women. And it used to be uncommon to see it in women under 50. And now it's really not uncommon.

REBECCA THOMAS: And again, breast cancer can be genetic. When is it recommended to get tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes? Keeping in mind that not everyone who has those genes will end up getting breast cancer.

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: Well, first off, if you do end up having a biopsy that is positive for breast cancer, you would automatically be tested, and your relatives would be tested. But if you have a strong family history, if you know many relatives in your family, or particularly a male in your family who has had breast cancer, then you should seek the guidance of a genetic counselor. And there are also some ways to input your family tree in different risk models. Stratify our on the internet that can help you determine what your risk factors are and if your risks are high. But even if you don't have the gene, you can consider having supplemental screening, such as adding breast MRI screening to your mammograms so that you're getting screened every six months.


REBECCA THOMAS: What are some of the symptoms to watch out for?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: A lump is number one. There's also changes such as a change in the size of your breast, puckering of the skin or thickening of the skin, retraction of the nipple and nipple discharge, particularly if it's bloody, and sometimes itching around the nipple.

REBECCA THOMAS: What can women do to lower their risk?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: The main thing is to get screening. The second thing is to maintain a healthy body weight and avoid alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption is actually associated with increased risk of breast cancer, which I feel like not very many people are aware of.

REBECCA THOMAS: Let's talk about the importance of early detection. And you mentioned screening, self-check, mammograms. When should they be done? At what age, and how often?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: The American College of Radiology recommends that screening begin at age 40 and occur yearly, which is what most insurances will pay for. And you can always do self-exam at any time. And it helps because then you know what your anatomy is like. And self-exam should typically happen once a month.

REBECCA THOMAS: And, again, you mentioned an MRI in addition to a mammogram. Who would most need that?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: If you have a risk greater than 20 percent of having breast cancer, then that is when we typically recommend adding breast MRI screening.

REBECCA THOMAS: And what else would you want people to know about breast cancer as we wrap up Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

DR. ELIZABETH MOOREHEAD: Early detection is key. If breast cancer is caught early, and there's just a local mass, then there's a 99 percent five-year risk survival. So your chances are really great. You don't need to die from breast cancer. But don't be afraid to get screened.