Breast cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the breast, it is called breast cancer. Breast cancer can be found in either the ducts or the lobules. Sometimes it is in both areas. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women.


breast cancer patient wearing mask

Breast cancer risk factors

For every disease, there are certain risk factors that increase the chance you will get the disease. The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, but there are things that put women at increased risk. There are some risks you cannot control and others you can control.

Breast cancer risks you cannot control

  • being a woman
  • getting older
  • history of breast cancer in your family (mother, grandmother, aunt, sister)
  • member(s) of your family developed breast cancer before age 40
  • certain inherited genes
  • personal history of atypical cells in your breast
  • dense breasts
  • exposure to estrogen (early menstruation, older age at birth of first child, late menopause)
  • had radiation therapy to your chest

Breast cancer risks you can control

  • being obese
  • drinking alcohol
  • getting enough exercise
  • using tobacco
  • hormone replacement therapy that combines estrogen with progestin


doctor in mask who works at allina health cancer center

Breast cancer symptoms

Signs of breast cancer include a lump or change in the breast. Talk with your health care provider if you have any of the following:

  • a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast
  • a dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast
  • dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange
  • a nipple turned inward into the breast
  • fluid, other than breastmilk, from the nipple, especially if it is bloody
  • the skin on the breast, areola, or nipple is scaly, red or swollen

Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. However, if you have pain that does not go away, call your health care provider to talk about your symptoms.


woman getting screened for breast cancer

Breast cancer screening schedule for women at average risk for breast cancer

When to start having mammograms to screen for breast cancer and how often to have them is a personal decision. It should be based on your preferences, your values and your risk for developing breast cancer.

Allina Health recommends that you and your health care provider together determine when mammograms are right for you.

Allina Health’s mammogram screening guidelines are based on the 2015 American Cancer Society recommendations:

  • Age 25: Have a risk assessment for breast cancer with your health care provider.
  • Ages 40 to 44: Should consider having a mammogram every year with your decision informed by a shared decision making process with your health care provider. During this process, he or she will explain the benefits and harms of screening.
  • Ages 45 to 54: Have a mammogram every year.
  • Age 55 and older: Have a mammogram every year or transition to having one every two years. 

Continue to have mammograms as long as your health is good. Your doctor may recommend a different schedule if you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer.

woman doing stretches

Breast cancer prevention

You can help prevent breast cancer.

  • Get regular screening mammograms.
  • Learn if you have a history of breast cancer in your family.
  • Eat well-balanced meals that include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.

Talk with your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.


woman with her back to the camera facing the ocean

quoteAs a cancer survivor, I had an “Ah-Ha!” moment, a kick in the pants, that life is short. I gained the confidence to speak up more and developed a take-charge attitude. I redefined some roles within my marriage (but I still don’t vacuum)! I also volunteered for a committee at work. There is life after breast cancer! Make the most of it!

— Allina Health cancer patient

Want to know more?

Learn how Allina Health cares for breast cancer patients.

Explore our cancer resources

We created this collection of information and support to help you through this time.