Each year in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings fresh attention and support to early detection and treatment, greater cultural awareness, and palliative care. Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in developed and developing countries. The American Cancer Society, while hailing the progressive strides that have occurred, reminds us that notable challenges still remain.
THE GOOD NEWS
A woman's risk of dying of breast cancer in the US dropped 39% between the late 1980s and 2015, translating into 300,000 less breast cancer deaths during that time. Improved treatment, stable incidence rates, and earlier detection through screening and awareness have all advanced this substantial progress.
CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME
For 2018, American Cancer Society estimates for breast cancer in the US are:
- 266,120 newly diagnosed cases of invasive breast cancer in women
- 63,960 newly diagnosed cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS is the earliest form of breast cancer and non-invasive)
- 40,920 deaths of women from breast cancer
There is much more to be done. For example, there is still a large racial gap in mortality, with 42% higher African-American women death rates compared to whites, even as incidence rates are similar. And overall, breast cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer death in US women. There are currently more than 3.1 million people in the US with a history of breast cancer, including both women in active treatment and women who have completed treatment.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Educate yourself and those you love about the risk factors for breast cancer. Stay attuned to any unusual physical changes in your breasts and body. Given our insufficient knowledge of the causes of breast cancer, the focus is on early detection such as self-monitoring and awareness of early signs and symptoms, screening by clinical breast examination, and mammograms as recommended by your doctor.
KNOW ABOUT RISK FACTORS
Studies show that your risk for breast cancer is influenced by a combination of factors. The main factors are being a woman and aging. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older.
Risk factors do not mean you will get breast cancer, only that your chance could be higher. Some women will get breast cancer even without any known risk factors. Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not develop breast cancer. Have a conversation with a trusted health provider about ways you can lower your risk and screen for breast cancer.
Risk factors* may include:
- Postmenopausal breast cancer risk is about 1.5 times higher in overweight women and about 2 times higher in obese women than in lean women.
Low Physical Activity
- Women who engage in consistent physical activity have a 10 to 25% lower breast cancer risk than inactive women, particularly for postmenopausal than premenopausal women.
- Diet is thought to be partly responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancers. While no food can prevent cancer, some foods can boost your immune system, and lower your breast cancer risk. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (> 5 cups a day) and varied proteins. Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients, and have less fat and more fiber content compared to animal products. Aim for less than 30 grams of fat per day and no more than 10% of your calories from saturated fat. Avoid trans fats and processed foods, and limit red meat. Read more about How Diet Impacts Breast Cancer Risk.
- Accumulating research shows smoking, particularly long-term, heavy smoking, to be a slightly increased breast cancer risk, especially for women who start smoking before their first pregnancy.
- Many studies confirm that alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk in women by about 7%-10% per drink of alcohol consumed per day. Women who have 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day have a 20% higher breast cancer risk compared to non-drinkers.
- Current or recent Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) users have a higher breast cancer risk. Combination HRT (estrogen and progesterone) increases breast cancer risk by about 75%, even when used for only a short time. Estrogen-only HRT increases the risk of breast cancer when used for more than 10 years. The higher breast cancer risk from using HRT is the same for "bioidentical" hormones as it is for synthetic hormones. Some oral contraceptives (birth control pills) may also raise breast cancer risk.
Risk factors you cannot change include getting older, reproductive history, breast density, personal and family cancer history, radiation therapy history, and others.
No one knows your body better than you. Attentive self-care includes regular breast monitoring and healthy lifestyle choices that reduce your breast cancer risk. Bring any concerns to your doctor, and commit to eating well, being active, resting your body and mind, and avoiding toxins. Robin Care Advocates are here to help you get the information you need when you need it.