Excluding cancers of the skin, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, accounting for one out of every three cancer diagnoses in the United States.
Only lung cancer causes more cancer deaths in women. It is the leading cause of cancer death in women between the ages of 15 and 54.
A woman in the United States has a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
Although research has often given conflicting views, some things
keep emerging as lifestyle links and risk factors for Breast Cancer:
Increasing age - besides being female this is the most important risk factor (especially over age 50)
Family history of breast cancer, especially in a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter)
Breast cancer genes - approximately 5-10% of breast cancers are believed to be inheritedii
Personal history of breast cancer - if you have had invasive or in situ breast cancer, you will have increased risk of developing new breast cancer in the remaining breast tissueiii
Hormonal factors - (Early age at menarche, late age at menopause, late age at first live birth, few pregnancies, hormone replacement therapy)
Eating a high fat diet
Lack of proper exercise
Great emphasis is being placed on encouraging women to do monthly breast self-exams, but 60% or more women do not practice BSE regularly.iv
Some health professionals like Susan Love, a breast cancer specialist, feel that encouraging monthly breast self-exam is sending a negative message by telling women to look for cancer once a month.
Less than 25% of women who develop breast cancer have an identifiable risk factor.v
Although some factors we can’t do anything about, there is much we can do.
Let’s empower women to be more responsible for their health.
1. Place more emphasis on Breast Health
Practice a healthy lifestyle: proper exercise, a good diet, weight control, no smoking, alcohol in moderation.
View Breast Self-Exam as a positive experience, an opportunity to know our bodies better, to know what healthy breast tissue feels like, to learn about the changes that occur normally throughout the month with breast tissue.
2. Know your own and your family’s history of breast cancer.
Ask about relatives breast cancer history. Often in the past, families did not talk about relatives who died from cancer.
If you have a history of breast cancer in your family discuss this with your health care provider. There
are new prevention methods and treatments available.
3. Promote annual professional breast exams for women 18+ years of age.
The American Cancer Society recommends clinical breast examination by a health care provider annually for age 40+ years, and every 3 years for 20-39 years of age, and monthly BSE for all women age 20+ years of age.vi
KSC Health Services encourages all sexually active women 18+ years of age to have an annual pap test. Since only about 60% of women practice BSE monthly, ask for a professional breast exam at the same time.
4. Practice annual mammograms for women 40+ years of age.
Regular mammogram screening has resulted in a 30% lower breast cancer death rate.vii
i American Cancer Society, "Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 1997", pp. 1,6. ii American Cancer Society, p. 7. iii American Cancer Society, p.7 iv The Boston Women's Health Collective, The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, N.Y., A Touchstone Book published by Simon & Schuster, 1992, p. 576. v The Boston Women's Health Collective, The New Our Bodies, Ourselves, p.581. vi American Cancer Society, "Guidelines for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer", 1998. vii Paula B. Doress-Worters, Diana Laskin Siegal, and The Boston Women's Health Collective, N.Y., The New Ourselves, Growing Older, A Touchstone Book published by Simon & Schuster, 1994, p.363.