The National Institutes of Health reports that breast cancer affects one in eight women during their lives and kills more women in the United States than any cancer except lung cancer. Awareness is key to prevention—if detected early, women diagnosed with breast cancer have a five year survival rate of 99 percent! Lower your risk of breast cancer by conducting monthly self-exams, scheduling annual clinical exams, and understanding breast cancer risk factors.
Risk Factors and Early Detection
By Laura Childers
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
According to the American Cancer Society, the following may contribute to the development of breast cancer.
Aging: A woman’s risk of breast cancer increases as she gets older.
Family History: Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer doubles a woman’s risk.
Ethnicity: White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American, Hispanic, or Asian women, but African American women are more likely to die of this cancer.
Pregnancy History: Women who don’t have children or who have their first child after menopause have a slightly higher risk.
Weight: Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a higher risk.
Dense Breasts: Women with denser breast tissue—more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue—have a higher risk.
Menstrual Cycles: Women who have menstrual periods for a longer time than most—either because they started menstruating at an early age or went through menopause at a later age—have a slightly higher risk.
Alcohol Use: Risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who don’t drink.
Hormone Therapy: According to the American Cancer Society, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, use of hormone replacement therapy over a long period of time may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society also says that women who use combined hormone therapy (the use of both estrogen and progestin) after menopause also have an increased risk.
It’s important for women to know what is abnormal and contact their health care provider right way if they notice any breast changes. Consider these guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
20s and 30s: Women in their 20s and 30s should do a monthly breast self-exam and get a clinical exams every one to three years. Many physicians recommend a baseline mammogram at age 35.
40s: In addition to monthly self-exams, women in their 40s should schedule annual clinical exams and mammograms. It’s important to understand that many women in this age bracket develop breast cysts, harmless fluid-filled sacs within the breast tissue.
50s +: The older a woman is, the more likely she is to get breast cancer. Women 50 and older should also conduct monthly self-exams and schedule annual clinical exams and mammograms.