The Best Thing You Can Do Is Educate Yourself
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the best thing you can do is educate yourself! That can seem overwhelming with a topic like breast cancer, but fear not, we are here to help. One of the most important things to know when it comes to breast cancer is your personal risk. Most women fall into one of two categories: average risk and high risk. The majority of women are at average risk (12.5%) of developing breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Women are considered high risk when their lifetime risk is 20% or more. You are probably wondering “how do I know my risk?” I am glad you asked…
When calculating your risk, we have to look at what are known as risk factors. A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of developing a certain disease. For breast cancer, there are a number of known risk factors, some you can control and other that you can’t control. Let’s take a look at some of the risk factors that you (unfortunately) can’t control.
Age: Breast cancer risk increases with older age. From birth to age 49, 1 in 51 women develop breast cancer. Compare that to age 70 and older, where 1 in 15 women are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Gender: While men can develop breast cancer, it is rare. Male breast cancers account for less than 1% of all breast cancer in the US.
Personal history: Many benign breast diseases can increase your risk for developing breast cancer later in life. If you have ever had a breast biopsy that was negative or benign, it is important to know the actual diagnosis to assess your risk.
Family history: Having a first-degree relative with breast cancer nearly doubles your risk. This is true for both sides of the family, your mother’s and father’s. The age at which your family member was diagnosed is also very important. Younger age at diagnosis = higher risk.
Genetic mutations: BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most well-known, but there are many more mutations that may increase your risk of breast cancer.
Reproductive factors: Younger age at menarche (when you had your first period), older age at first birth, nulliparity (never having children), and older age at menopause can all increase your risk.
Prior radiation treatment: This is a less common risk factor, but increases your risk nonetheless. This is most commonly seen in women who had lymphoma at a young age and required chest radiation as part of their treatment.
If you have any of the risk factors above, you may fall into that high risk category. Find out as much information as you can, particularly about your family history and discuss it with your doctor. Although there are many risk factors beyond your control, there are some that you can control. These include your body mass index (BMI), alcohol consumption, and tobacco use. Staying in shape with regular exercise and a balanced diet, decreasing your alcohol intake, and not smoking are all ways that you can decrease your breast cancer risk.