February 4 is World Cancer Day, observed globally since 2000. The focus of this day is raising awareness around cancer and cancer prevention. While breast cancer awareness in America has increased significantly since the 1970s, here are 10 facts about the disease that most people probably still aren’t aware of.
1. Breast cancer isn’t the most common (or deadly) women’s cancer.
Despite all the attention breast cancer receives, skin cancer is the most common cancer in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And lung cancer kills the most women, though breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death.
2. Many women diagnosed with breast cancer don’t actually have cancer.
According to breastcancer.org, an estimated 20 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses in 2017 (63,410 women) will be for DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ, a type of pre-cancer); this percentage is typical of any year. In an effort to relieve women’s stress around breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommended back in 2013 that DCIS be declassified as cancer, suggesting doctors not refer to their patients with DCIS as being diagnosed with cancer. Thus about 20 percent of women diagnosed with “breast cancer” each year don’t actually have cancer.
3. A breast cancer diagnosis under age 20 is highly unlikely.
Despite the fear many teens experience around finding a new lump and worrying it’s breast cancer, the risk of being diagnosed with the disease under the age of 20 is incredibly low: so low that The National Cancer Institute’s SEER Cancer Statistics Review lists a woman’s possibility of being diagnosed with breast cancer from birth to age 20 as 0.0 percent.
4. You’ll probably know someone who dies of breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one in 37 American women will die of breast cancer.
5. As you age, breast lumps become more serious.
While women should always take new breast lumps seriously, this becomes more critical as you age. While only about 10 percent of breast lumps in women age 30 to 39 are malignant, by the time a woman reaches age 55, that number jumps to 85 percent.
6. Most women survive breast cancer.
Statistics offered by the CDC note that overall, about 18 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer will die from it. This includes women diagnosed with late-stage cancer, whose death rate is quite high. For women diagnosed early, the survival rate is much higher. A 2015 NCI study notes that “The overall death rate from [DCIS] breast cancer at 20 years after diagnosis [is] 3.3 percent, a rate similar to that of the general population.”
7. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Some breast cancer risk factors can’t be mitigated, including this one: Taller women, and women with higher birth weights, are at increased lifetime risk for breast cancer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health’s Disease Risk Index.
8. Breast cancer isn’t a young woman’s disease.
Per the ACS’s Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2011-2012, 95 percent of new cases of breast cancer, and 97 percent of breast cancer deaths occur in women aged 40 and older.
9. Drinking alcohol can increase breast cancer risk substantially.
According to breastcancer.org, women who have two or more drinks a day have a 50 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer than women who don’t drink.
10 . Men can get breast cancer, too.
CDC statistics note that about 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and about 400 die of the disease. The average age for breast cancer diagnosis in men is between 60 and 70 years old.
Osuch, Janet R., MD. “Primary Care Guide to Managing a Breast Mass: Step-by-Step Workup.” Medscape. Accessed February 02, 2017. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/443381_3.
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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.