“How common is breast cancer?”

Approximately 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. It is the second most common cause of death related to cancer after lung cancer.

“When and how should I be screened for breast cancer?”
All women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram every year. Many women without risk factors for breast cancer feel protected and wonder whether they need screening. It is important to note that about 70-75% of breast cancers occur in women without any risk factors. This means that all women should undergo screening.

Mammography is currently the best tool that we have for detecting early breast cancer, but it is also important for women to perform monthly self breast exams and to have annual breast exams by their physician or experienced care provider. Women with a family history of women developing breast or ovarian cancer before menopause may need earlier screening and should see a breast specialist to discuss this.

“What are the risk factors for breast cancer?”
1) Being female
2) Risk increases with age
3) Personal or family history of breast cancer
4) Previous breast biopsy with atypical hyperplasia or lobular or ductal carcinoma in situ
5) Not having children before the age of 30
6) Starting menstrual periods at a young age (younger than 10) or going through menopause after the age of 55.

“Is there anything I can do to decrease my risk for breast cancer?”
Studies have shown that women can decrease their risk for breast cancer by changing some of their lifestyle habits. If you smoke, decreasing your risk of breast cancer is another reason to quit. You should follow a low fat diet and keep your weight near your ideal body weight. Your doctor can calculate your body mass index for you which can tell you your ideal weight range. Women who are more than 50 pounds overweight have higher rates of breast cancer. Women who drink more than 9 alcoholic drinks per week increase their risk for breast cancer by 2 ½ times. Women who take combination (estrogen and progesterone) hormone replacement therapy for greater than 5 years also have slightly higher rates of breast cancer. If you are on estrogen and progesterone hormones replacement therapy or considering it for symptom relief you should discuss this with your doctor.

Women with a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer may be candidates for gene testing to see if they are a carrier of a high risk gene or for certain medications such as Tamoxifen which can decrease their risk.