89 Percent of Women With Breast Cancer Have This in Common, Study Says

This fact upends a common—and dangerous—misconception about breast cancer.

Thanks to breast cancer awareness month and other public health campaigns, most people now understand that mammograms save lives—yet few people realize just how ubiquitous this type of cancer is. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is now considered the most common type of cancer around the world as of 2021. This accounts for 12 percent of all new cancer cases among the general population and 30 percent of all cancer cases among women. Roughly one in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.

If that all sounds just a bit too grim, thankfully, there's also some good news. With early detection and intervention, many patients receive a promising breast cancer prognosis. And the more you know about the illness, the better your chances of catching it early, before it spreads. Read on to discover one important thing nearly 90 percent of women with breast cancer have in common—and one that could help save your life.

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89 percent of women with breast cancer have no immediate family history.

Female doctor looking at test results of her patient. Breast examination. Mammogram. Health care concept, medical insurance. Womens health.

Due to a general increase in awareness surrounding breast cancer, many women have opted to undergo BRCA testing, a blood test that identifies genetic mutations that cause breast cancer within a family. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that between 2004 and 2014, testing rates skyrocketed among women with no known family history from 24.3 percent to 61.5 percent, with experts calling the uptick a "breakthrough in breast and ovarian cancer prevention."

However, research shows that only 10 percent of breast cancer patients have a family history, while nearly 90 percent have none. "Family history increases risk although not as much as some women believe," explains the 2005 "Saving Women's Lives: Strategies for Improving Breast Cancer Detection and Diagnosis" report. "Eighty-nine percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history among their first-degree relatives (mother, daughter, or sister)."

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This means even women with no family history need routine mammograms.


Clearing a BRCA test is certainly good, news considering that the risk of breast cancer is doubled in those who carry specific genetic mutations. However, given that 89 percent of breast cancer patients have no family history, you'll still need regular screening regardless of what the BRCA test says.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women with no family history of breast cancer should ​​begin receiving mammograms between the ages of 40 and 44 if they wish to begin early screening, or if their doctor has recommended it. Between 45 and 54, all women should have mammograms performed annually. After the age of 55, women can be screened every two years. This should continue for as long as the patient is expected to live 10 years or longer, the organization says.

Women with a family history of breast cancer should begin a little sooner.

mammograms are one of the things that suck about turning 40

Women who do have a family history of breast cancer should undergo screenings on a slightly different timeline. Experts say that this will depend on the particulars of your personal health and family history.

"If you have a mother, daughter, or sister who developed breast cancer below the age of 50, you should consider some form of regular diagnostic breast imaging starting 10 years before the age of your relative's diagnosis," according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

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Everyone should know the signs of breast cancer.

woman checking breast, subtle symptoms of serious disease

Knowing the signs of breast cancer can also lead to early detection. The American Cancer Society explains that the most common symptom of breast cancer is "a new lump or mass," and that these are most frequently painless and hard, with "irregular edges."

The ACS also suggests looking out for the following symptoms: swelling, skin dimpling, pain of the nipple, thickening of the breast tissue, new nipple irregularities including redness or discharge, or swelling of the lymph nodes.

If you notice these or any other concerning changes in your breasts, speak with your doctor to have a professional screening.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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