Breast cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer for women in the United States, second only to lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Chances are, somebody you know and love has been affected by breast cancer.
The good news is that over the last 30 years, breast cancer death rates have been on a slow decline, due in part to advances in breast cancer treatment, early detection and increased awareness.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s what every woman (and man) needs to know about breast cancer.
Who's at risk?
Although breast cancer is generally thought to be a women’s disease, men can also develop breast cancer. In fact, fewer than 2,500 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men this year.
There are a number of risk factors that may increase a person’s chance of developing breast cancer. These include:
- Gender: Female hormones estrogen and progesterone can promote the growth of breast cancer cells.
- Age: Breast cancer risk increases with age. About two of three invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older, while just one of eight are found in women younger than 45.
- Genetics: About five to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, the result of a genetic mutation such as BRCA1 or BRCA 2.
- Family history: A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer more than doubles if she has a first-degree relative with cancer (mother, sister or daughter).
- Race and ethnicity: Most breast cancers develop in Caucasian women, though African-American women are more likely to die of the disease. Women of Asian, Hispanic and Native American descent have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
- Birth control: Studies show oral contraceptives may slightly increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
- Hormone therapy: Some women who undergo hormone therapy after menopause may have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol: Consumption of alcohol has been clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese: Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer screening and detection
Early detection of breast cancer increases chances of effective treatment. Mammograms and breast self-exams are the two best ways you can detect breast cancer in its early stages, minimizing the extent of treatment and perhaps even saving your life.
Breast self-awareness: Simply be aware of your body, and if you notice any changes, notify your healthcare provider. It’s perfectly fine to check your breasts on a regular basis, but also be aware of your body as you go about normal daily activities like showering and dressing. At those times, it’s likely that you'll notice if something feels or looks differently than usual. Breast self-awareness empowers women to know their bodies and know when they need to seek medical attention. 40 percent of breast cancer cases are detected by women who feel a lump, according to Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
Mammogram: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and is the main test recommended by the American Cancer Society for the early detection of breast cancer. A breast MRI is recommended for women who are at high risk for breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society recently released new recommendations for when and how often women should get mammograms. The new breast cancer screening guidelines state that women with an average risk of breast cancer should have an annual mammogram starting at age 45, continuing once a year until 54, then every other year as long as they are healthy. These guidelines do not apply to women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer.
To determine when you should begin annual breast cancer screenings, consult your primary care physician.
The Retreat Women’s Health Center offers preventive health screenings, including mammograms. The center’s high-risk breast cancer program has been designed to reduce risk and promote healthy choices for women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, call (888) 492-4673 to talk with our oncology information specialists today.