Breast Cancer: Are You at Risk?

Jim Kenney Oath of Office

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, other than skin cancer, and the second deadliest cancer in U.S. women.

That's why here at Go Healthy, with the help of our partners Healthy Women, we'll be bringing you information into next week to help educate you and your family on breast cancer. Even if you're not at high risk, someone you know and love may be. Read on below and see what makes a woman at-risk.

How to Detect Breast Cancer

What is it?

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in breast tissues. Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobules, which have many smaller sections called lobules. The lobes and lobules are connected by thin tubes called ducts.

One of the most important factors when it comes to breast cancer is whether the cancer is invasive or noninvasive. Noninvasive (in situ) cancers are confined to the ducts or lobules and have not spread to surrounding tissues or other parts of the body. Noninvasive cancers can develop into more serious invasive tumors. Invasive breast cancer has spread outside the milk duct and into the normal tissue inside the breast. Whether a breast cancer is invasive or noninvasive determines treatment and prognosis.

Read on at for the different kinds of breast cancer that involve the lobes, lobules and/or ducts.

How common is it?

Approximately 207,090 cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in 2010, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Though an estimated 39,840 women died from breast cancer, there are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S., according to the ACS.

Fortunately, the number of deaths caused by breast cancer has declined significantly in recent years, with the largest decreases in younger women -- both Caucasian and African American. These decreases are probably the result of earlier detection and improved treatment.

Are you at risk?

Your risk of developing invasive breast cancer at some time during your lifetime is a little less than one in eight (12 percent) -- it means that one in 233 women in their 30s will be diagnosed with breast cancer; one in 69 in their 40s; one in 36 in their 50s; and one in 27 in their 60s. The "one in eight" applies to women in their 80s and 90s.

Your risk is higher if you have:

  • A family history of breast cancer, specifically, a first-degree relative who has had it (mother, sister, daughter)

  • Biopsy-confirmed atypical hyperplasia, or an overgrowth of abnormal cells that are not cancerous

  • A mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 tumor suppressor genes

  • A mother, sister or daughter with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, even if you are yet to be tested yourself

  • Had radiation to the chest before the age of 40, particularly if it was given in adolescence

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, are a carrier of ataxia telangiectasia (AT) gene or have a first-degree relative with one of these syndromes.

  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), which is not a true cancer, though it may be a marker for later cancer risk. Most experts agree that LCIS does not often become an invasive cancer, but women with LCIS do have an increased risk of developing invasive breast cancer.

  • A biopsy-confirmed atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH), which is a noncancerous breast disease characterized by the growth of abnormal cells. ALH may be discovered when a biopsy is done for a lump or to examine an abnormal area found on the mammogram.

Your risk is somewhat higher if you have:

  • Dense breast tissue

  • Early menstruation (beginning at 12 or younger)

  • Late menopause (age 55 or older)

  • Never had children or had your first baby after age 30

  • Have used hormone therapy for a long time

Your risk may be higher if you:

  • Smoke

  • Drink heavily

  • Are obese

  • Are a gay or bisexual woman. These women have a greater risk of breast cancer than other women not because of their sexual orientation, but because they are less likely to have had children. They also may have more lifestyle-related risk factors for breast cancer than heterosexual women, including obesity and cigarette smoking. If you are a lesbian or bisexual woman, you may want to find a lesbian- and/or bisexual-sensitive health professional and schedule regular physicals that include clinical breast examinations and mammography.

A majority of women will have one or more risk factors for breast cancer. However, most risks are so low that they only partly explain the high frequency of the disease in the population.

While you can't alter some of your personal risk factors for developing breast cancer, such as age or family history, you can adopt specific lifestyle choices, such as maintaining your ideal body weight and exercising, to reduce your risk of the disease.

Early detection of breast cancer, however, provides the best opportunity for successful treatment and reduces your chances of dying from breast cancer.

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