Over 200,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among women in the United States during 2009. Breast cancer is second only to lung cancer in cancer deaths among American women and is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women ages 40-59.
These daunting facts show the importance of knowing your risk for breast cancer:
1. The female sex. All women are at risk for breast cancer. But it does happen in men as well. In 2008, it was estimated 1,500 men would be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 400 would die from it. They have the same signs and symptoms of breast cancer as women.
2. Age. A woman’s risk of getting breast cancer increases with age.
By age 40, the risk is 1 out of 233.
By age 50: 1 out of 53.
By age 60: 1 out of 22.
The two most important risk factors are being female and getting older.
3. A personal history of breast or ovarian cancer.
4. A female relative on the maternal side with a history of breast cancer.
5. A previous biopsy showing atypical hyperplasia or carcinoma in situ.
6. Being young (under 12 years) at time of first period, starting menopause after age 55, never being pregnant, having a first child after age 30, having the mutated breast cancer BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene. There is higher incidence of BRCA mutations among Ashkenazi Jewish women. Less than 5 percent of women who have breast cancer have a mutant gene.
Other factors have been recognized in the role of developing breast cancer, these are factors that are within your control.
- Having more than one drink of alcohol per day.
- Being overweight.
- Taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause.
- Being exposed to large doses of radiation for treatment in the past for tuberculosis, scoliosis, and for Hodgkin’s disease.
Fibrocystic breast disease is a common diagnosis in women between the ages of 20 and 50. Symptoms may include pain, tenderness, and masses due to cysts. These changes need to be evaluated by a clinical exam, mammogram, and when indicated, an ultrasound exam. Fibrocystic disease does not increase your risk of breast cancer.
Recommendations for screening for breast cancer are:
- Monthly self-exam beginning at age 20.
- Clinical breast exams by a physician at least every three years beginning at age 20 and annually after age 40.
- Annual screening mammograms beginning at age 40.
Mammograms for women under 40 may be appropriate for those at increased risk, as enumerated above.
A diagnostic mammogram is indicated when there is concern for a new lump, thickening in any part of the breast, or a change in color of the skin or dimpling of the skin.
For overall wellness, and possibly to decrease risks for developing breast cancer, it is recommended that women consume a low-fat diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as maintain an exercise program, which will fight obesity, reduce estrogen levels, lower insulin levels, and boost the immune system.
American Cancer Society www.cancer.org
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation www.komen.org
Health and happiness, Kriss