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Understanding the risk factors and how to detect breast cancer early

Dr. Allison Yingling |Dr. Anna Hood

Diagnosed every two minutes, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Understanding the risk factors associated with breast cancer as well as how to detect breast cancer early is key to staying healthy and improving your chances of surviving breast cancer.

The main risk factors of developing breast cancer include gender and age. Breast cancer is 100 times more likely to occur among women than men. In addition, as a person gets older, their risk increases, with most breast cancers being diagnosed after age 50. Although some risk factors, such as gender, age, and other genetic factors, cannot be changed, there are other risk factors that you can address to help reduce your chances of getting breast cancer.

Ways to reduce your risk include maintaining a healthy weight, keeping up with regular physical activity, and eating a balanced diet, including foods full of healthy nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limiting the amount of alcohol you consume and being tobacco-free can also lower your chances of developing breast cancer.

If breast cancer develops, early detection is critical. Breast cancer in its early stages, when it is small and has not spread, is easier to successfully treat. Two ways to help detect breast cancer early include mammograms and breast self-awareness.


A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast. Routine mammograms can help detect breast cancer early, even before symptoms develop. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommend that women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Routine mammograms should continue as long as a woman is in good health with a life expectancy of five to 10 years.

Breast self-awareness

The American Cancer Society recommends that all women be knowledgeable of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, as well as become familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel in order to detect if there are any changes. If you notice any of the following changes, please contact your doctor immediately:

  • A lump or mass in the breast
  • Any changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • Swelling in or around the breast or armpit
  • Skin of the breast or nipple feels thicker or is red or scaly
  • Dimpling on the breast, nipple retraction
  • Nipple discharge, particularly clear discharge or bloody discharge
  • Breast pain, particularly pain that is focal (not diffuse) and persistent


Mount Nittany Health’s Breast Care Center, located at Mount Nittany Health-Park Avenue, is dedicated to providing comprehensive and compassionate care for our patients and their breast care needs. Our Breast Care Center offers digital mammograms, including tomosynthesis, also known as 3D digital mammography, which allows for better clarity compared to traditional mammograms. In addition, the Breast Care Center offers a number of other services including breast ultrasounds, breast MRI, needle localizations, biopsies, and bone density scans.

For more information about breast cancer and Mount Nittany Health’s Breast Care Center, visit or call (814) 234-6106. To learn more about the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer screening guidelines, visit


Allison Yingling, MD, and Anna Hood, MD, are providers at the Mount Nittany Health Breast Care Center.