Education is a powerful tool in the fight against disease. Test your knowledge of breast cancer with our collection of frequently asked questions:
About 227,000 women here in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and about 40,000 women will die from it. More than half of those deaths will be among women who are 65 and older, according to the American Cancer Society. Only lung cancer accounts for more deaths in women.
What are the main risk factors?
The two most significant risk factors for getting breast cancer are being female and growing older. About 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, while about 2 of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.
What are other risk factors that are not in my control?
- Having a family member or family history of breast cancer (Your chance of getting breast cancer practically doubles if you have a mother, sister, or daughter diagnosed with it.)
- Having inherited genetic mutations
- Having dense breast tissue or abnormal breast cells. (Up to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be linked to abnormal changes inherited from a parent.)
- First menstrual period before the age of 12 or going through menopause after the age of 55.
What risk factors are in my control?
- Being overweight or obese after menopause
- Use of menopausal hormone therapy
- Drinking alcohol
- Lack of physical exercise
What can I do to try to protect myself from getting breast cancer?
- Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. You should have no more than one drink a day. If you are at high risk of getting breast cancer, you should avoid alcohol altogether.
- Control your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. While diet isn’t proven to offer direct protection from breast cancer, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is key in breast cancer prevention. Choose foods and portion sizes that promote a healthy weight. Add more whole grains, fruits and vegetables to your shopping cart and limit refined grains and sugary, fatty snacks. Also limit processed and red meat.
- Start exercising every day. It can be as simple as a daily walk. And don’t let weather deter you. If it gets too hot or too cold outside, head to the local mall or gym. Swimming is another great form of exercise that is low impact on the joints. Remember, an inactive lifestyle increases the risk of breast cancer. Make sure you check with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.
- If you are taking hormone therapy, look into discontinuing it or at least lowering the dose and using it only temporarily. Long-term combination hormone therapy increases the risk of breast cancer. If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options.
- Get regular screening tests. Routine breast exams and mammograms detect early signs of breast cancer.
- Communicate with your health care provider. Ask questions, take notes, report any symptoms or concerns you may have, get all of your screenings, and don’t miss any scheduled medical appointments. When you work together with your health care provider, you can better manage breast cancer risk factors and receive the right kind of care when needed.