Breast cancer awareness skyrockets in October, but there are better ways than wearing a pink ribbon to make sure your favorite females know all they should about this disease. Here are 10 breast cancer facts every woman should know.
1. Breast cancer risk changes over time
“One in eight” is the figure we hear constantly: one of every eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of a lifetime. But this doesn’t mean your risk is one in eight right now. For women between the ages of 20 and 30, the risk is one in 1,667. One in 42 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 50 and 60. For women over 70, it’s about one in 26.
2. Family history can be a risk factor…
When you hear that family history plays a role in breast cancer risk, don’t panic because two of your elderly aunts have had it. You need to be concerned about a significant increase in breast cancer risk only if your sister, daughter, or mother was diagnosed with the disease before age 50.
3. …But family history isn’t common
Only about 10 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. So not having a family history doesn’t mean you’re home safe.
4. Mammograms are imperfect
According to the National Cancer Institute, mammograms miss about 20 percent of breast cancers present when the mammogram was performed. Applying that statistic to real life, one in five women will receive an “all clear” on her mammogram report, when in reality that one woman has breast cancer. The takeaway: be vigilant about noticing breast changes.
5. Diagnoses are stable, and death rates falling
The percentage of American women diagnosed with breast cancer each year has remained stable for the past 10 years. However, death rates from the disease are trending downward, falling nearly two percent per year for the past 10 years.
6. Know your breast density; it matters
According to HealthCentral.com, women with dense breasts are four to six times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those with non-dense breasts. Next time you have a mammogram, ask your doctor to include your breast density level in the follow-up report.
7. Most breast lumps aren’t cancer
According to Susan Love, M.D., M.B.A. (most commonly known to the public as Dr. Susan Love), only one in 12 breast lumps large enough to be felt is actually a cancerous tumor. The vast majority of breast lumps are cysts or benign tumors (fibroadenomas), both of which are non-cancerous and, though potentially uncomfortable, basically harmless.
8. You can lower your risk
While most breast cancer risk factors — being a woman, growing older, breast density — are beyond your control, there are a couple of proven ways to lower your risk.
- Try to minimize weight gain after menopause; women who gain significant weight later in life are at greater risk for breast cancer.
- Eliminate or cut back on your drinking. Women who consume alcohol are also at higher risk — though that risk only becomes significant for women who have more than one serving of an alcoholic beverage daily.
9. The great majority of women survive breast cancer
Thankfully, 89.7 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are still alive five years later. In total, about 83 percent survive breast cancer, and eventually die of something else. Bonus: if the cancer hasn’t spread outside the breast, a whopping 98.8 percent of women survive at least five years. In 2013, there were an estimated 3,053,450 women in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer.
10. Beware this age span: 55-64
Any woman can get breast cancer, but the highest percentage of cases — 25.7 percent — happens in women between the ages of 55 and 64. Likewise, the highest percentage of breast cancer deaths — 22 percent — occurs in this age group. So stay extra-alert to potential breast cancer symptoms during the years right around and just after menopause.
11. Men can get breast cancer, too
Though the incidence of breast cancer in men is tiny compared to women, it’s a possibility. So don’t let your sons, brothers, husbands, or dads ignore that breast lump they feel!
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Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel_, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network. _
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.