Breast Cancer Risks & Prevention
Are you aware of your risks? Breast cancer affects hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, but early detection and treatment can greatly reduce your risk of a life-threatening situation. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, get the facts and learn what you can do to ensure many more years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, excluding some forms of skin cancer. About 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives. Breastcancer.org estimates 281,550 new cases of breast cancer in 2021 along with 49,290 cases of non-invasive breast cancer. In addition, an estimated 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men.
Numerous factors can affect your odds of a breast cancer diagnosis, according to the CDC. Unfortunately, some breast cancer risks cannot be avoided. These can include any of the following:
- Age — The CDC reports the risk for breast cancer increases as people age with most cases diagnosed after the age of 50.
- Genetic mutations — Mutations to inherited genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 can result in a higher risk for breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history — According to the CDC, “Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.”
- Breast density — If breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, early detection can be more difficult during a self-examination. Consequently, women with more dense breasts are at a higher risk of a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Personal history of cancer or other breast diseases — Women who have already had breast cancer are at a higher risk to be diagnosed again.
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer — Women with a mother, sister, or other female relative who has been diagnosed with breast cancer are at a higher risk of being diagnosed themselves. Additionally, the CDC reports having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also increases a woman’s risk of being diagnosed.
- Previous radiation therapy — Women who have received radiation therapy to the breasts or chest before the age of 30 are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer later in life.
- Use of the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) — DES was a drug given to pregnant women from beginning in 1940 to prevent miscarriages until 1971 when scientists discovered DES use was linked to clear-cell carcinoma. Women who used this drug are at a higher risk of breast cancer, as are women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them.
Some risks can be controlled and even avoided, including any of the following:
- Physical activity — As is common with some other forms of cancer, a lack of physical activity can increase your risk of a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Post-menopause overweight or obesity — According to the CDC, older women who are overweight or obese have a greater chance of a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Taking hormones — The CDC reports some forms of hormone replacement therapy taken during menopause such as estrogen and progesterone can increase the risk for breast cancer if taken for more than five years. Some oral contraceptives (i.e., birth control pills) can also increase a woman’s risk.
- Reproductive history — Some risk factors associated with reproductive health include pregnancy after the age of 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy.
- Drinking — According to the CDC, studies show a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases along with increased alcohol consumption.
Though some risks can’t be changed — like family history or genetics — some risks like lifestyle choices can help decrease your risk of a diagnosis. Early detection of breast cancer can provide a five-year survival rate of 100%.
Reduce your risk of breast cancer by making the following lifestyle changes:
- Maintain a healthy weight with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise and physical activity.
- Limit your alcohol consumption — or give up alcohol altogether.
- Consult your physician about the use of hormone replacement therapies or oral contraceptives.
- Breastfeed your children.
- Talk to your healthcare provider if you have a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes to BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
- Schedule regular screenings. The CDC recommends women perform a monthly self-exam beginning at age 18 before scheduling annual mammograms beginning at age 40. The Culbertson Memorial Hospital Imaging department uses the Hologic Selenia Dimensions 3D Breast Tomosynthesis, a 3D mammography system that can detect breast cancer smaller than most people can feel.