Breast cancer will affect one in eight American women over the course of her life. While it’s impossible to predict exact breast cancer risk, certain factors make it more likely you’ll develop the disease. Moreover, misinformation may prevent many women from taking the proper preventive measures. It’s important to understand breast cancer prevention and the importance of early detection and risk management.
Understanding Your Risk Factors
Your personal risk for breast cancer depends on your unique risk profile, along with some element of chance. Scientists have identified numerous factors that could contribute to your risk for breast cancer. These include, but are not limited to:
- Age: Your risk for breast cancer increases as you age. Your age at your first period and menopause also play a role.
- Biological sex: Though men do get breast cancer, it is 100 times more common in those born female.
- Childbirth history: Women with more than one child, spaced closely together, starting at a young age, typically have a somewhat lower risk of breast cancer.
- Inherited gene mutations: Women with the BRCA1 inherited gene mutation have a 55-65% chance of breast cancer by age 70. The BRCA2 mutation gives women a 45-55% chance of developing the disease by the same age.
Many other factors may also play a role, from hormone levels to ethnicity to alcohol consumption. Ask your physician about what your specific profile indicates about risk.
Busting Common Breast Cancer Myths
Misinformation about breast cancer is rampant, especially on the internet. Learn the facts behind these common breast cancer myths.
Myth: A breast lump means cancer.
Truth: A lump in the breast can mean many different things, most of them benign. But it can be a sign of cancer, so it’s essential to get it checked out. In addition, many breast cancers don’t form a noticeable lump at all.
Myth: Men can’t get breast cancer.
Truth: While it is much more common in women, 1 in 833 men develop breast cancer sometime in their lives. Men should perform regular self-screenings and report any changes to their doctor.
Myth: You’ll definitely get breast cancer if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation.
Truth: Many women with these gene mutations do not develop breast cancer. However, they are definite indicators of a much higher than average risk, so you will want to discuss preventive measures with your doctor as soon as possible.
Myth: Family history determines whether you’ll get breast cancer.
Truth: A full 85% of breast cancer diagnoses are in women without any family history of the disease. But family history does play a role in your risk profile, especially if your mother, daughter, or sister has breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about your personal risks.
Breast Cancer Prevention: Mammograms and More
Mammograms are among the best tools we have in the fight against breast cancer. While they can’t prevent breast cancer from developing, regular screening can prevent cancer from worsening and spreading.
- Early detection lowers the risk of dying from breast cancer by up to 30%
- Mammograms can detect abnormal breast tissue up to two years before it turns into cancer
- Regular mammograms increase the likelihood that if cancer is found, you’ll be able to keep your breasts
To lower your risk of breast cancer, practice a healthy lifestyle. Get plenty of exercise, eat a nutritious diet, maintain a normal weight, breastfeed your children, and limit your alcohol consumption. Get tested for inherited genetic mutations, which can dramatically increase breast cancer risks. If you have these mutations, you may need to take additional measures to lower your risk.