Breast Health & Disease

Breasts play many roles women's lives. They give women their unique shapes. They provide sexual pleasure. They deliver life-sustaining milk to their babies.

Some women are completely comfortable with their breasts, others aren't. They worry that their breasts are too big or too small, sit too high or hang too low, are lopsided, or aren't as firm as they once were. Regardless of size or shape, all women want healthy breasts for a lifetime.

Five ways to keep breasts healthy include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, limiting alcohol (no more than one drink a day), not smoking, and regularly performing breast self-exams.

Among younger women, common breast problems include fibrocystic breast disease, a noncancerous condition characterized by breast pain, cysts, and lumps); and fibroadenomas, small bumps of fibrous and glandular tissue that can be painful.

For older women, the concern is more likely to be breast cancer. About 1 in 8 (12%) of women living in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes. Each year, about 300,000 American women are diagnosed with some form of breast cancer, and about 40,000 die of it.

Breast cancer can often be successfully treated, especially if it is detected early. That's why women are urged to check their breasts at home, and to have routine mammograms beginning at age 50 (or earlier for women at high risk for developing breast cancer).

Breast Health & Disease Articles

Your breasts may offer clues about your heart health

A mammogram may show calcifications (small calcium deposits) in the arteries of the breast. These may signal that a woman has a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Arterial breast calcifications become more common with age. Some research has found that if a woman has calcifications in her breast arteries, she has a 70% chance of having calcifications in the coronary arteries as well. (Locked) More »

Are you old enough to give up your screening mammogram?

There is no universal age to stop screening mammography, but women over 75 should discuss with their doctors whether to continue. Women who are in poor health, have a reduced life expectancy, or are unwilling or unable to tolerate cancer treatments may want to stop screenings. But screenings might be appropriate in older women who are in good health and are willing to undergo cancer treatments if needed. (Locked) More »

Could your breast implants be making you sick?

Many women are reporting symptoms they believe are associated with their breast implants. Sometimes called breast implant illness, this combination of vague symptoms—such as hair loss, fatigue, anxiety, and depression—is also associated with a number of other conditions, including menopause, thyroid problems, and autoimmune conditions. Researchers are now working with patient advocacy groups to better understand the problem. Experts recommend that women understand the potential risks and benefits of breast implants before having the surgical procedure. (Locked) More »

Breast Ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves instead of radiation to generate snapshots or moving pictures of structures inside the body. This imaging technique works in a manner similar to radar and sonar. Ultrasound was developed in World War II to detect airplanes, missiles, and submarines that were otherwise invisible. The doctor or ultrasound technician first coats a small area of your skin with a lubricant to reduce friction. He or she then places an ultrasound transducer, which looks like a microphone, on your skin and may rub it back and forth to get the right view. The transducer sends sound waves into your body and picks up the echoes of the sound waves as they bounce off internal organs and tissue. A computer transforms these echoes into an image that is displayed on a monitor. A breast ultrasound can indicate whether a breast lump is caused by a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass, such as cancer. (Locked) More »

Dealing with high-density breasts

High breast density is a risk factor for breast cancer that is typically detected on a mammogram. The FDA is proposing that mammography facilities tell women if they have high density, but there are no definitive rules in place that tell doctors how to best manage these women to reduce risk. Some strategies you can use if you have high breast density are to have a conversation with your doctor about breast cancer risk and reducing alcohol use. (Locked) More »

Newer breast screening technology may spot more cancers

A new study shows that digital breast tomography, sometimes referred to as 3D mammography, is better at accurately finding cancers, including smaller cancers, and reduces the risk of false positive results compared with digital mammography. The advantages of the technology were particularly pronounced in women in their 40s. For this reason, younger women may want to consider using this screening method instead of traditional digital mammograms. (Locked) More »

Study finds weak link between birth control and breast cancer

 Image: © designer491/Getty Images Hormonal birth control — whether it comes as pills, injections, a ring, an intrauterine device (IUD), or an implant — may raise your risk of breast cancer, according to a study published Dec. 7, 2017, in The New England Journal of Medicine. If you're like many women who currently use one of these contraceptive methods, or if you used one for years in the past, should you be worried? (Locked) More »

When you look for cancer, you might find heart disease

Screening tests for lung and breast cancer—chest computed tomography (CT) scans and mammograms—may offer clues about a person’s risk of heart disease. Chest CT scans, which are also done to detect blood clots in the lungs and for other lung diseases, can show calcium deposits in the heart’s arteries. Mammograms can show calcium in the breast arteries, which is closely linked to calcium in the coronary arteries. Calcium accumulates in artery walls, along with fat, cholesterol, and other substances to form plaque. Plaque narrows and hardens arteries, eventually leading to blockages that can trigger heart attacks. (Locked) More »