Breast Cancer 101

October 3, 2013

Knowledge is power; especially when it comes to your health. Understanding your risk factors for common conditions and diseases is one way to play an active role in keeping yourself healthy and vibrant. Breast cancer is one of those common conditions that will undoubtedly touch someone in your life, possibly even you[1]. Awareness about breast cancer arms you with power that can help to both prevent and manage this disease.

Assessing Risk

Based on current incidence rates, experts estimate that approximately 1 out of every 8 women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. According to the National Cancer Institute, age is one of the leading risk factors for women in developing breast cancer and the risk increases as a woman gets older. Other important risk factors include, but are not limited to: an inherited gene mutation (BRCA among other genes), a family history (though only 5-10% of breast cancers are heredity), early onset menstruation (prior to age 12), late onset menopause (after age 55), obesity after menopause, and alcohol use [1]. Although rare, men can also get breast cancer. Like women, many of the same risk factors exist including age, obesity, alcohol use, family history and gene mutation. Understanding your individual risk provides you with the opportunity to possibly prevent the disease or detect it through screening at a very early stage of development.

Managing Risk

Like many other diseases, there is a rich body of research regarding what contributes to an individual’s risk and how to minimize those risk factors. There are both internal and external factors that can contribute to your chances of developing breast cancer. It is important to address those you have control over like smoking, exercising and nutrition– because you can’t control your age, sex or genetic profile. So making the healthiest lifestyle choices possible is one of the best ways to proactively manage health risks for all diseases including those associated with breast cancer.

Being Proactive

One of the best weapons against breast cancer is early detection. The easiest, lowest cost method to identify possible early issues is self examination. Despite some recent discussions, most experts recommend that women perform breast self-exams at least once a month. Routinely performing breast self-exams can help you understand how your breasts look & feel so that you can be aware and alert your doctor of any changes. Diagnostic tools like mammograms, MRI’s, and ultrasounds can detect breast cancers, and are important adjuncts to a breast cancer screening program. There are published guidelines you and your doctor can use to determine the best use of these diagnostic tools based on your unique health factors and risks. Discuss which tools make sense for you with your doctor and remember – knowledge is power!

[1] American Cancer Society Research 2013

[2] American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Studies II and 3

Written by James Lindberg, M.D., Hoag Executive Health Chief of Service