Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the second-leading cause of cancer death. However, death due to breast cancer has been decreasing since 1989, thanks to early detection and advances in treatment.
The most significant risks for developing breast cancer are gender and age. Being a woman means that you have a 12% chance of developing breast cancer in your lifetime, and it is more likely to develop in later years.
Early detection is your best chance of survival – with screening mammograms, breast self-exams and annual clinical breast exams. For women with an average risk of breast cancer, annual screening mammograms should begin at age 40. For women with increased risk, screening should begin at an earlier age dependent upon risk factors. Discuss this with your doctor and develop a screening plan.
Additional risk factors include certain hereditary genetic mutations, a personal history of breast cancer, family history of breast cancer, personal history of radiation to the chest wall or face before age 30, certain types of fibrocystic breast changes, use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause, being overweight, alcohol use, cigarette smoking and dense breast tissue.
Race/ethnicity also impact your risk. White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer, but African-American women are more likely to develop more aggressive breast cancer diagnosed at a more advanced stage and at a younger age. Screening is critical to cause a change in this paradigm.
Although you hear a lot about family history and gene mutations as risk factors, it is important to know that less than 15% of women who develop breast cancer have anyone in their family with the disease, and only 5% to 10% of breast cancers are due to a gene mutation inherited from the father or mother. That means that about 85% of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. This is why screening is so important.
Your gender, age and family history can’t be changed; however, other risk factors can be modified.
- Regular, moderate exercise for 4-7 hours per week lowers the risk of breast cancer.
- Hormone replacement therapy after menopause increases the risk by 75% (so instead of 12% lifetime risk of breast cancer, the lifetime risk would be 21%).
- Smoking cigarettes is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, particularly in younger premenopausal women.
- Reducing alcohol consumption also lowers risk; women who drink two or more alcoholic drinks per day (wine, beer or liquor) are 50% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t drink alcohol.
- Having a full-term pregnancy prior to age 30 and breastfeeding reduce the risk of breast cancer (but these are not necessarily decisions that are made purely for the purpose of reducing breast cancer risk and are very personal).
According to the American Cancer Society, one out of every eight women will have breast cancer. However, early detection can lead to a good prognosis, and is the key to fighting cancer. If breast cancer is caught early, before it spreads beyond the breast, the five-year survival rate is 99%. (Data: American Society of Clinical Oncology.)
Breast exams are an important part of a woman’s health. You have multiple options for screenings, and it is important to select the one that is right for your situation. Your doctor will help you decide which type is best for you. These are the most common choices:
- Mammograms. They are the most common type of breast cancer screening, and require the use of X-rays. Mammograms can show both the early and late stages of tumors through X-ray imaging. It is recommended that women over the age of 40 have an annual mammogram.
- Clinical breast exams (CBE). This type of screening checks for abnormalities and lumps in the breasts without invasive tools. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network shares that the breasts and underarms are usually part of the examination.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI relies on magnetic fields to generate images. This is considered to be a more invasive procedure and is usually reserved for high-risk patients, such as those with BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, family histories of cancer or dense breast tissue.
- BRCA testing. This test helps determine your genetic risk for breast cancer. This type of screening looks for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations that increase the risk of having breast cancer.
- Thermography. This procedure uses a camera with heat sensing technology to create a map of your breasts. Changes in temperature in the tissue can be a sign of tumors.
The goal of breast cancer screenings is to catch problems at an early stage, so treatment is more effective. It is crucial to use screening tests and exams to catch this type of cancer, because symptoms may not appear right away. Regular screenings can detect cancer before it spreads to other parts of your body, giving you an increased chance of survival.
Breast cancer kills 40,000 women every year, but screenings can help with early diagnosis. Whatever you do, don’t delay your annual exam. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to schedule your breast cancer screening appointment.
– Provided by Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists, PC. The practice has has seven physicians with offices in Canton and Woodstock. 770-720-7733. www.cherokeewomenshealth.com.
Worship in Pink. Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta is promoting October as Worship in Pink month, and offers materials for area faith organizations to use in raising money. www.komenatlanta.org/wip.
The Georgia 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer. This annual event covers 30 miles of Atlanta in two days. Originating in 2002, the fundraiser has funded 338 grants totaling $15 million to support breast health programs in Georgia. www.itsthejourney.org.
Tennis Against Breast Cancer in Cherokee County. Drills will take place at BridgeMill, Cherokee Tennis Center and Woodmont. Lunch at the Cherokee Conference Center. The event includes activities to fund mammograms and transportation for under-insured women. https://give.northside.com/tabc.
Paint Gwinnett Pink. The fourth annual 5K Walk/Run for breast cancer will celebrate survivorship and honor those affected by this disease. Money raised benefits local cancer survivors and the Gwinnett Breast Center at Northside Hospital. paintgwinnettpink.org.
Making Strides of Atlanta at Centennial Olympic Park. This one-day event is presented by Independent Insurance Agents For A Cure to benefit the American Cancer Society.