How long does it take for breast cancer to develop?

Typically it takes breast cancer months to years to develop. This is why annual screening mammography can be an effective tool to detect breast cancer early.

Dr. Amanda J. Morehouse, MD
Critical Care Surgeon

It takes years for breast cancer to develop. A series of alterations in that person’s DNA ultimately amounts to cancer. That takes place sometimes over a lifetime. Once the first breast cancer cell develops, it often takes years before that becomes something that is detectable either by a scan or in the genes.

Dr. Deanna J. Attai, MD

The length of time breast cancer takes to develop depends on the specific cell type and biological features. Not all breast cancers are the same. Some develop very quickly and grow very rapidly, while others grow very slowly and may be present for more than 5 years before they are able to be detected.

It takes multiple genetic abnormalities to eventually result in breast cancer. These do not happen all at once, and some of the changes might begin many years before the cancer actually develops. While it appears there are four major types of breast cancer, there is significant genetic variation even within each type. When doctors have a clearer understanding of this, drugs can be designed to stop the abnormalities from developing or progressing. When that happens, breast cancer will become a medical, not surgical, illness. That scientific breakthrough will change everything—and eventually it will happen.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.