Breast Cancer Risk Factors
“You Have Breast Cancer”. The words that would change your life forever. The words that all of us fear. Today we’re going to try to take some of the fear of the unknown out of the equation by familiarizing ourselves with the breast cancer risk factors.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth that begins in the tissues of the breast.
Who Is At Risk?
- Age: women (and men) over the age of 60 are at greater risk. 10-15% occurrence in women under age 45, but that varies for different races or ethnicities.
- Gender: breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than in men.
- Genetics: you are at a higher risk if there is a family history (especially mother, sister or daughter) of breast cancer; gene testing reveals the presence of potential genetic problems if there’s a family history of genetic mutation.
- Not having children: women that have not had children have a greater risk
- If you have a high density or more glandular and fibrous tissue present
- Your risk is greater if you you’ve had a hister of certain benign (non cancerous) breast changes
- If you started menstruating before age 12 or if you entered menopause after age 55, you have a slightly higher risk.
- If you have a sedentary lifestyle
- If you are or have been a heavy drinker
- If you have been on birth control pills
- If you have been on a combined post menopause hormone therapy
- If you were exposed to the drug Diethylstilbestrel (DES): commonly given to women during pregnancy from 1940-1971 to prevent miscarriage
- If you had radiation therapy as a child or young adult to the chest area as a treatment for another cancer.
What Can I Do?
Remember, early detection saves lives! Survival rates are as high as 98% for early stage detection. Obviously, we should address the things we have control over first and foremost…
- Engage in regular exercise: 4-7 hrs per week
- Limit or cut out alcohol consumption
- Perform monthly self breast exams: Look for ANY changes from month to month…like, lumps, puckering, pain, discharge, color, rash. Don’t forget to check under your arms, too! If you are concerned about any lumps, bumps, pain, rash, change in color of the skin or nipple discharge have your doctor check it out.
- Clinical diagnostics include mammogram, ultrasound and MRI.
When Should I Have A Mammogram?
Schedule your mammogram during the first 14 days of your cycle to reduce pain and increase accuracy.
- Age 40-49 : recommendation is every 1-2 years
- Age 50-74: recommendation is every 2 years
- Over 75: recommendation should be up to your individual circumstance and discussed with your doctor.
Mammogram, Ultrasound & MRI
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and usually the starting point in diagnostic screening. Sometimes, an ultrasound of the breast tissue is done after a mammogram if the mammogram shows a suspicious area to determine if it’s a cyst vs. a solid mass. An MRI gives a clearer image, but is more expensive than a mammogram and takes much longer to perform and can give a false positive reading.
As we’ve learned here today, women over age 60 have a greater risk factor for getting breast cancer. Look over all the breast cancer risk factors and take notes, if necessary, to see just how at risk you are. Talk to family members, too, to get a better history. And, if you aren’t already doing self breast exams, please start! Check with your doctor to see if you’re due for a mammogram or other diagnostic screening. Early detection saves lives! (worth repeating)
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