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Breast Cancer: Understanding Your Risk

by Dr. Virginia Herrmann

The National Cancer Institute estimates that one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Although we have made great strides in diagnosing and treating breast cancer, more than 41,000 people will die from breast cancer this year. The risk is much higher in industrialized countries such as the United States, Great Britain, France and Sweden, and is less common in developing countries.

Research has shown the most important risk factors for developing breast cancer:

  • Gender: 98 percent of all breast cancers occur in women, but approximately 2,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
  • Age: The chance of getting breast cancer increases with age. The majority of cases occur in women over the age of 60. Although uncommon before menopause, women are diagnosed with breast cancer in earlier decades. 
  • Race: In the United States, breast cancer is more commonly diagnosed in white women than in African American women or other minorities. Despite the higher incidence of cancer in white women, the mortality is greater among African American women.
  • Reproductive history: The chance of developing breast cancer is greater in women who menstruate early, women who go through menopause late and women who do not have children, or have their first child later in life. Breast cancer risk also is increased in women who have used hormone therapy for long periods of time after menopause.
  • Personal history of breast cancer: A woman who has had breast cancer in one breast is at increased risk of cancer in her other breast.
  • Family history: A family history of breast cancer is an important risk factor, particularly if breast cancer occurred in a mother, sister or daughter.

A history of breast cancer in your father’s family can be just as important. Despite this risk factor, it is important to recognize most women with breast cancer have no family history.

Reprinted with permission from Bluffton Today


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