Breast cancer FAQ

The American Cancer Society answers the following questions which are frequently asked about breast cancer.

Q: What are the American Cancer Society’s recommended guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer using mammography?

A: Based on an expert panel’s review of the historic and recent evidence, the Society recommends that women at average risk should begin annual mammography at age 40. Women should have an opportunity to become informed about the benefits, limitations, and potential harms associated with regular screening.

Q: Can men get breast cancer?

A: Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does occur. An estimated 2,240 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and approximately 410 will die of the disease. Currently, there is no technology to detect male breast cancer early. Men should be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel and should discuss any changes with his health care provider.

Q: Who is most at risk for developing breast cancer?

A: Several factors contribute to the risk of developing breast cancer. Aside from being female, age is the main risk factor. As age increases, so does the risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, two out of three invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women age 55 and older. Modifiable risk factors that are associated with a lower risk of breast cancer include breastfeeding, moderate or vigorous physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body weight. The use of alcohol is also clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. The American Cancer Society recommends that women consume no more than one drink per day. Family history and genetics also contribute. Weight gain during adulthood and being overweight or obese are risk factors for postmenopausal breast cancer, as are having a personal history of breast cancer, certain types of benign breast disease and several hormone-related factors.

Q: What effect does a family history of breast cancer have on a woman’s risk of getting the disease?

A: Women with a strong family history of early breast cancer ­­— two or more close relatives diagnosed before age 50 ­­— are at increased risk of developing the disease. However, the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no close relatives (mother, sister or daughter) with the disease, and most women with a family history will not develop breast cancer.

Q: What should women do to stay well and reduce their risk of breast cancer?

A: Women can help reduce breast cancer risk by choosing to make healthy lifestyle choices to stay well. Many studies indicate that being overweight increases the risk of breast cancer among post-menopausal women , so all women should strive to maintain a healthy weight. In addition, moderate to vigorous physical activity among both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women has been shown to decrease breast cancer risk.

Weight control and regular physical activity are also important for breast cancer survivors. There is convincing data that obesity is associated with breast cancer recurrence , and data from a large study of breast cancer survivors showed that higher levels of post-treatment physical activity were associated with a 26 percent to 40 percent reduction in the risk of recurrence and mortality . Healthy lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and limiting alcohol intake are important steps to helping reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Compared with non-drinkers, women who consume 1 alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who drink no alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is also known to increase the risk of developing several other types of cancer. The Society recommends that women consume no more than one alcoholic drink per day.

Q: Are breast cancer screenings covered by insurance?

A: The Affordable Care Act guarantees women access to proven preventive services such as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings, both in new private insurance plans and in Medicare, with no deductibles or copays. Additionally, most states require that Medicaid provide coverage and reimbursement for the early detection of breast cancer.

Visit for more information, and to find out how to get involved in the fight against breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society