BY KIMBERLY BLAKER
Risks, Symptoms, and New Revelations on Early Detection
oday 12% of women will develop invasive breast cancer, and more than 40,000 will die from it this year alone, reports BreastCancer. org. That’s why a refresher course on early detection and keeping up-to-date on latest studies is so important and the reason for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
There are several risk factors for breast cancer, as identified by the American Cancer Society (ACS). Some of these factors are unchangeable but should be taken into account in developing a screening plan. Other risk factors are lifestyle-related. Therefore women, especially those already at higher risk, should consider those factors she can control. Still, the simple presence of risk factors does not mean a woman will go on to develop breast cancer. Likewise, lack of
risk factors doesn’t mean a woman won’t develop the disease. For this reason, all women should be aware of the risks and symptoms and what screening does and doesn’t do. Some factors that are unchangeable and increase risk, according to the ACS, are: female gender, aging, genetics, race and ethnicity (white women are at slightly higher risk), dense breast tissue, a benign breast condition such as fibrosis or others, a greater number of menstrual cycles, previous chest radiation, and exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES). Other risk factors, however, can often be controlled. Pregnancy and child birth affect risk. Women who have never had a child have a slight increased risk over those who have had more than one child. Yet, women who give birth to only one child at the age of 35 or older have a slightly increased risk over
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those who had no children. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, and the longer they breastfeed during child rearing years, the greater the protection. Oral contraceptives slightly increase risks. But once a woman has been off contraceptives for a period of 10 years that risk is no longer present. Hormone therapy for menopausal women also increases risk for those women with a uterus. Because estrogen alone can increase risk of uterine cancer, progesterone is typically prescribed along with estrogen. This can then increase breast cancer risk. Women without a uterus are prescribed estrogen alone, and therefore are not at increased risk, says ACS. Alcohol is a risk factor. The greater the consumption, the greater the risk. More than 5 drinks daily can increase risks for other cancers as well.