Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 2015, this month is even more significant to me than it was previously.   It also means a great deal to me for another reason.  This month, my dear friend should be celebrating her 53rd birthday, but she is not.  Her 4 ½-year battle with breast cancer ended about 8 ½ months after mine began.  For anyone impacted by breast cancer, our awareness is not limited to one month out of the year; it is year round and never ending.

Knowledge is power, and it is important to arm ourselves with the facts surrounding breast cancer.  I definitely am not a numbers person, but these particular numbers provide greater context for breast cancer. – Breast Cancer Information and Support offers up sobering statistics and helpful information regarding breast cancer in the United States:

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. In 2021, it is estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.
  • In 2021, breast cancer became the most common cancer globally, accounting for 12% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
  • An estimated 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.  This year, an estimated 281,550 women will be diagnosed with new cases of invasive breast cancer, along with 49,290 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.
  • This year, an estimated 43,600 women are expected to die from breast cancer. Since 2007, death rates have been steady in women under the age of 50, but have continued to drop in women over the age of 50. The overall death rate from breast cancer decreased by 1% per year from 2013 to 2018. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances and earlier detection through screening.
  • For women, breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, except for lung cancer.
  • As of January 2021, there are more than 3.8 million women with a history of breast cancer, including those currently being treated for breast cancer and those who have completed treatment.
  • In women under the age of 45, breast cancer is more common among Black women than among white women. Overall, Black women are more likely to die of breast cancer. For Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women, the risk of developing, and dying from, breast cancer is lower. Ashkenazi Jewish women have a higher risk of breast cancer because of a higher rate of BRCA mutations.
  • Men also are impacted by breast cancer, and their lifetime risk is roughly 1 in 833 men.  This year, an estimated 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (Breast Cancer | CDC), studies have shown that the risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors. The CDC reminds us that there are risk factors we cannot change, along with risk factors that we can change.  These are some of the risk factors that are beyond our control:

  • Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age, with most breast cancers being diagnosed after the age of 50.
  • Genetic mutations.  Women who have inherited certain genetic changes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are at higher risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before the age of 12 and starting menopause after the age of 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Having dense breasts. Women with dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer.  Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it difficult to detect tumors on a mammogram.
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer. Some non-cancerous breast diseases, such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ, are associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter or multiple family members on either her mother’s side of the family or her father’s side of the family who have had breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Having a father, brother, or son with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts before the age of 30 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
  • Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES).  Women whose mothers took DES to prevent a miscarriage, while pregnant with them, are also at a greater risk.

There are some risk factors that are within our control, though:

  • Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. 
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who are within recommended weight ranges.
  • Taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy, such as those that include both estrogen and progesterone, taken during menopause can raise the risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
  • Reproductive history. Having a first pregnancy after the age of 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
  • Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
  • Smoking.  Research suggests that smoking may increase breast cancer risk.

Some women will develop breast cancer even without having any known risk factors, other than being a woman. It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean you will definitely will develop breast cancer, and not all risk factors have the same effect.   Have a conversation with your healthcare provider about ways you can lower your risk and about screening for breast cancer.

That’s another story . . .

Categories: That's Another Story

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