A woman has a one in seven chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. But thanks to education and awareness of the importance of screening for breast cancer, women no longer have to die from the disease. The number of breast cancer deaths have fallen over the past several years, but with more than 40,000 women annually dying from breast cancer, there is still work to be done.
While not all those at risk for breast cancer will go on to develop the disease, it’s smart to find out if you are at risk and take any appropriate measures to protect yourself. The MCG Cancer Center offers the following guidelines on risk factors:
-Age: Your risk increases as your grow older, with women over 60 at highest risk.
-Family History: Make a point to find out if you have a family history of breast cancer. You are at higher risk if your mother, sister, daughter or other relatives had breast cancer, especially if they had breast cancer before age 40. If a strong family history exists, genetic testing can be done to find out if certain genetic anomalies exist in your family that may increase the risk of breast cancer. If you have had breast cancer, you are also at increased risk of the cancer returning in the other breast.
-Reproductive History: Your risk increases if you do not have children, if you were older when you had your first child, if you began menstruation younger that age 12 or went through menopause after age 55.
-Estrogen: Women who take estrogen (either alone of with progestin) for five or more years after menopause may be at increased risk. Women who took DES, a synthetic form of estrogen given to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971, have a slightly increased risk. Studies on breast cancer are ongoing for daughters born to women who took DES.
-Radiation: Women who have had radiation therapy to the chest are at greater risk. The younger you were when you had the radiation, the greater the risk of breast cancer later in life.
-Race: While breast cancer is most prevalent in Caucasian women, women of all races and ethnicities are at risk for the disease.
-Obesity: If you are physically active throughout your lifetime, you have a decreased risk of breast cancer. You are at greater risk if you become obese after menopause.
-Alcohol: Some studies suggest a link between increased alcohol intake and breast cancer.
What You Can Do
While there may not be much you can do to change some of the risk factors related to breast cancer, you can do one very important thing: Get checked regularly
Beginning at age 20, women should conduct monthly breast self-exams and receive clinical breast exams every three years. Consult your physician to learn the appropriate way to conduct a breast self-exam. Regular self-exams are an important way for you to familiarize yourself with what’s normal for you and can help you spot any later problems.
Beginning at age 40, women should begin receiving clinical breast exams and mammograms yearly. Monthly self-checks should continue.
Women with a family history of breast cancer should consult their physicians about the benefits of starting mammograms at a younger age or having more frequent clinical breast exams.
When any cancer is found early, many more treatment options exist and the chance for a cure is much higher. If you haven’t been checked in a while, make an appointment now. Remember, finding breast cancer early can help save your life.