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

Large Core Needle Biopsy of the Breast

A biopsy is a tissue sample removed from the body and examined under a microscope. In a breast biopsy, a doctor removes tissue from a suspicious area so that a pathologist can determine whether the tissue contains cancerous cells. At one time, surgeons only performed biopsies by making an incision in the breast and removing the suspicious tissue along with some normal tissue from around it. These surgical biopsies leave scars and may change the size and shape of the breast. Today, doctors can often use newer techniques. These include fine needle aspiration and core needle biopsy, which don't leave scars or change the shape of the breast. This is a significant advantage, because four out of five women who have biopsies do not have cancer. If your health care facility does not perform needle biopsies, ask to be referred to one that does, unless there's a reason why this procedure is inappropriate for you. (Locked) More »

Why breast density matters

Having dense breasts can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer and can make it more difficult to diagnose cancer that does occur. It’s important for women to discuss their risks—including breast density—with their doctor to determine the optimal screening tests and schedule and whether additional screening tests are necessary. (Locked) More »

Preventive mastectomy

Many women who have been diagnosed with cancer in one breast opt to have a preventive double mastectomy. Yet research finds that 70% of these women may be having the surgery unnecessarily. Experts say only women with specific risk factors are likely to benefit from preventive mastectomy. (Locked) More »

Do you need mammograms?

Although much of the research has found that mammograms do reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer over the long term, these screening tests can have false-positive results, which could lead to unnecessary tests or treatments. Considering the risks and benefits, is it worthwhile to have routine mammograms? Before you get your next mammogram, learn the pros and cons of this controversial screening test. (Locked) More »

The breast density-breast cancer connection

One of the strongest known risk factors for breast cancer is high breast density — that is, relatively little fat in the breast and more connective and glandular tissue, as seen on a mammogram. Now, a study has found that higher breast density in postmenopausal women increases the risk of specific types of breast cancer, including some that have a relatively poorer prognosis. More »