By Darian Carrow Consumer Wellness Investigator CDC Certified: Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals
In 2018, an estimated 40,000 women are expected to die as a result of breast cancer. Breast cancer, which results when cells in the breast grow to form malignant tumors, is classified as the second most common cancer diagnosed in women (Cancer.org). It’s important to spread awareness and educate women on some of the risk factors, preventative measures, and early detection methods available to them.
There are many different ways to be at risk of breast cancer, some are due to biological makeup and others are due to lifestyle habits. The main way that someone may be at risk of breast cancer is simply just by being a woman (National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.). Less than 1% of men are diagnosed with breast cancer, but 1 in 8 women will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetimes. If a woman’s mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer, her risk doubles, and if there are two of these first-degree relatives diagnosed, the risk increases five times as much (breastcancer.org)
Another way that women may be at an increased risk is due to their age. Although younger women can be diagnosed with breast cancer, most cases are of post-menopausal women over 50 (CDC). Post-menopausal women that are obese or overweight are at an increased risk due to excess amounts of stored estrogen. Estrogen, a hormone produced in the ovaries that is linked to cell-overgrowth, has been linked to the production of malignant tumors in the breasts. After menopause, the production of this hormone is halted and the excess estrogen is stored in fat tissue. If a woman is obese or overweight after menopause, there is more fat tissue for the estrogen to be stored in which results in longer exposure to the hormone. This also goes for girls who began menstruation before age 12, or women who experienced menopause later in life, as they have been exposed to estrogen longer.
A lifestyle habit that may leave women at risk of the development of breast cancer is a woman’s alcohol consumption or their exposure to tobacco. Women who drink more than one standard drink daily have a 30%-50% higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who limit themselves to one drink (McDonald 2013). One standard drink is 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5oz of 80-proof hard liquor. Limiting exposure or avoiding tobacco products completely may not only decrease the risk of breast cancer, but it can also be one of the greatest things a woman can do for their overall health.
The risk of developing breast cancer can be reduced by changing lifestyle habits. Not only can women limit both alcohol consumption and tobacco exposure, but they can also exercise daily as a preventative measure. Women that exercise just 30 minutes a day may decrease their risk of developing breast cancer by around 18% (Maurer Foundation). This can be any form of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking, cycling, general yard work, or dancing.
It is also recommended to be proactive in screening and early detection methods. Doctors recommend that women over 40 receive annual mammograms, which are x-rays of the breast that detect breast cancer as early as possible. Some physicians also suggest breast self-examinations, which is a way to detect changes in the breasts between mammograms or for younger women before they begin annual mammograms (Moran 2018). Lastly, making sure that yearly physical examinations are attended as well as utilization of the other two methods will result in the optimal early-detection possibilities and decrease a woman’s risk of being diagnosed with a later stage of breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a vicious disease that takes a woman’s life every 13 minutes. Being aware of what the risk factors are, as well as the methods you can prevent development could end up saving the life of you or a loved one. Not only should you stay up-to-date with breast cancer information, but other health & safety news as well. If you have any questions or concerns, consult your physician right away.