What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer humans, especially women, experience. And, while having an immediate relative diagnosed with breast cancer nearly doubles a woman’s chances for diagnosis, most cases are a result of the natural aging process and life circumstances, not genetics.
How does breast cancer form?
As with most cancers, breast cancer is a mutation of cells. What you may not know is that there are multiple types of breast cancer, and those can be classified as invasive and non-invasive.
Non-invasive breast cancers are localized in the milk ducts or lobules (milk-producing glands) and don’t spread into the surrounding breast or other body tissues. But most breast cancers are invasive, meaning cancer can grow (or “metastasize”) into surrounding breast tissue and other tissues — most commonly the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones, and sometimes the brain.
Breast cancer fast facts
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally
- On average, every 2 minutes a woman in the united states is diagnosed with breast cancer
- 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her life
- 1 in 833 men will develop breast cancer at some point in his life
- About 30% of new cancer diagnoses in women will be breast cancers
- In 2021, there will be roughly an estimated 330,000 new cases of breast cancer (invasive or non-invasive)
- (invasive and non-invasive)
- About 85% of breast cancer occurs in women with no family history of breast cancer
Risk factors for breast cancer
The primary risk factors for breast cancer are sex (being a woman) and age (most breast cancers are found in women 50 and older). While there are a few risk factors you can’t change, like genetic predisposition or having dense breasts, these are responsible for a minority of cases.
And there are risk factors you can change. Consider this:
Women who are not physically active, who are overweight or obese post-menopause, and who have taken hormone replacement therapies, are at higher risk of breast cancer. Risk also rises with alcohol consumption.
Why is breast cancer so common?
One of the reasons breast cancer is so common is because cancers have their best opportunity to form and grow in areas with high levels of cell growth — glands, for instance. And a breast is full of small glands, providing lots of opportunities for abnormal cell growth. (You can read a great explanation of this in this article featuring a quote from Dr. Tari King, chief of breast surgery at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston.)
How to reduce my risk?
Breast cancer, and cancer in general, is often defined by its unfortunate unpredictability, but there are some things you can do to proactively reduce your risk. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, and avoiding (or limiting) alcohol can help. Research also suggests that women with low levels of vitamin D may have a higher risk of breast cancer, so make sure you’re getting enough (and learn more about Vitamin D here).
How to monitor breast health
According to cancer.org, women have the option to start incorporating annual breast cancer screenings with mammograms into their yearly medical care routine starting around age 40. Mammograms are recommended yearly from age 45-54 and then every other year from age 55+.
What about breast self-examination (BSE)?
You may have heard about the importance of performing regular breast self-examinations (BSEs). Many experts are shifting the focus away from technical self-examinations to a general awareness of what your breasts look and feel like at any given time.
However, a BSE can still be a good tool to help you establish a baseline of your breasts’ normal state. Whether you prefer to follow the BSE steps or Johns Hopkins’ principles of breast self-awareness, it is important to be in touch with your body and be able to pinpoint any concerning change in your breasts. Knowing your breasts’ natural state is critical for staying aware of your breast health and should be part of every person’s wellness routine.
- Breastcancer.com. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Where Does Breast Cancer Spread?
- CDC.gov. Breast Cancer. What Are the Risk Factors?
- Howley, Elaine. U.S. News Health. (March 2017) What Makes Breast Tissue Susceptible to Cancer?
- Cancer.org. Five Ways to Help Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk.