Breast Cancer


About 1 in 8 women (13 percent) will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life, and 1 in 39 women (3 percent) will die from breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 42,170 women will die from breast cancer in 2020. However, breast cancer does not have to kill. If detected early, breast cancer often can be treated successfully.

What Increases Your Risk for Breast Cancer?

All women, including women with disabilities, are at risk for breast cancer. You might be at a greater risk for breast cancer if:

  • You have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • You have two or more close family members who have had breast cancer.
  • You are over age 65.
  • You were exposed to high dose chest radiation when you were young (i.e. extensive x-rays for scoliosis, radiation for thymus problems, radiation for lung problems).
  • You have taken hormone replacement therapy or used oral contraceptives.
  • You were pregnant for the first time after 30 years of age or have never been pregnant for the full nine months or never breastfed a child.
  • You began menstruating early (before 11 years of age) or experienced menopause late (after 55 years of age).
  • You are obese (very overweight).
  • You are not physically active.
  • You have 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day.

How Can you Check for Breast Cancer?

You need to take three steps to detect a breast cancer:

  1. Perform breast self-exams.
  2. Have yearly well-woman exams that include manual breast examination.
  3. Have regular mammograms once you are over age forty or as directed by your doctor. The frequency of exams depends on your level of risk for breast cancer.

What are Some Possible Signs of Breast Cancer?

Any of the following changes in your breasts could be an indication of breast cancer. If you notice any of these changes, you should contact your health care practitioner immediately.

  • A lump
  • Dimpling or puckering of the breast or nipple
  • Nipple discharge
  • One breast hanging lower than the other
  • One breast growing bigger than the other
  • A change in the color or texture of the skin of the breast or nipple
  • Unusual swelling of the upper arm

Additional Resources

  • Breast Cancer
    American Cancer Society
    (General breast cancer information.)
  • Breast Cancer and SCI
    Craig Hospital
    (Focuses on breast cancer and spinal cord injuries. Available in Spanish and as a downloadable PDF.)
  • Breast Cancer Fast Facts
    Office on Women’s Health
    (General facts about breast cancer, including tips for women with physical disabilities.)
  • Breast Cancer Overview
    National Cancer Institute
    (General breast cancer information.)
    (General information about breast cancer. Contains information about symptoms, diagnosis, living with breast cancer, and prevention.)
  • Facing Breast Cancer with a Disability
    Breast Cancer Network Australia
    (Focuses on women with disabilities. Includes videos and factsheets.)
  • My Body, My Responsibility: A Health Education Video for Deaf Women (video, 2003)
    (Educates young deaf women on important health care issues. Detailed information on breast self-exam. Models use a sign language interpreter in a healthcare setting.) Contact University of Rochester Deaf Wellness Center, 585.275.6785. Order video.
  • Our Bodies, Ourselves (book)
    Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
    (Covers a range of women’s health issues including women with disabilities. Available for purchase through online book retailers.) Order book.
  • The Right to Know Campaign
    The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention 
    (Focuses on women with disabilities. Contains downloadable flyers, factsheets, tip sheets in English and Spanish, basic information, posters, and audio podcasts with transcripts of stories by four women with disabilities about their experience with breast cancer.)
  • Risks for Breast Cancer in Women with Disabilities
    American Association on Health and Disability
    (Downloadable PDF)
  • Susan G. Komen Foundation
    (General information about breast cancer and cancer research.)
  • Tips for Women with Disabilities on Understanding Breast Cancer
    American Association on Health and Disability (Downloadable PDF)
  • Women’s Health
    American Association on Health and Disability
    (Focuses on women with disabilities. Contains factsheets, posters, webinars, tip cards, and more.)
  • Women with Disabilities and Breast Cancer Screening
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    (Also available in Spanish.)

Reference List

  1. Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al., eds. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2016. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2019.
  2. American Cancer Association. About Breast Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Association, Inc.; 2020.
  3. Tamimi RM, Spiegelman D, Smith-Warner SA, et al. Population attributable risk of modifiable and nonmodifiable breast cancer risk.