Simply being a woman and getting older puts you at risk for breast cancer. The older you are, the greater your chances of getting breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that, based on current rates, 13.2 percent of women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives. Breast cancer is the leading cancer among women of many Asian and Pacific Islander groups in the U.S.
Many women do not know they have breast cancer until it is advanced. Mammograms can save your life by finding breast cancer early. A mammogram can show cancer that is too small for you or your doctor to feel. When breast cancer is found early, you have more treatment options. “Early detection will give you more treatment options and certainly a better chance to survive”. —Robin Chin, breast cancer survivor.
No one knows the exact causes of breast cancer. Doctors often cannot explain why one woman develops breast cancer and another does not. They do know that bumping, bruising, or touching the breast does not cause cancer. Research has shown that women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. Some of the risk factors are as follows:
- Age: The chance of getting breast cancer goes up as a woman gets older.
- Personal history of breast cancer: A woman who had breast cancer in one breast has an increased risk of getting cancer in her other breast.
- Family history: A woman’s risk of breast cancer is higher if her mother, sister, or daughter had breast cancer. The risk is higher if her family member got breast cancer before age 40.
- Certain breast changes: Having certain types of abnormal cells (atypical hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ [LCIS]) increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Gene changes: Changes in certain genes increase the risk of breast cancer. These genes include BRCA1, BRCA2, and others. Tests can sometimes show the presence of specific gene changes in families with many women who have had breast cancer. Health care providers may suggest ways to try to reduce the risk of breast cancer, or to improve the detection of this disease in women who have these changes in their genes. NCI offers publications on gene testing.
- Reproductive and menstrual history:
- The older a woman is when she has her first child, the greater her chance of breast cancer.
- Women who never had children are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Race: Breast cancer is diagnosed more often in white women than Latina, Asian, or African American women.
- Being overweight or obese after menopause: The chance of getting breast cancer after menopause is higher in women who are overweight or obese.
- Drinking alcohol: Studies suggest that the more alcohol a woman drinks, the greater her risk of breast cancer.
Other possible risk factors are under study. Researchers are studying the effect of diet, physical activity, and genetics on breast cancer risk. They are also studying whether certain substances in the environment can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Many risk factors can be avoided. Others, such as family history, cannot be avoided. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss this concern with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce your risk and can plan a schedule for checkups. For yourself and your family, call your physician for a clinical breast exam and a mammogram today.