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Breast Cancer Risks: Myths vs. Facts
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, behind skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.
If you are feeling grateful that you do not have a mother, aunt or grandmother diagnosed with breast cancer, think again. While family history is a factor in your risk for breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, only about 5-10% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. This means that hereditary factors aren’t the only risks for breast cancer. Let’s look at the some of the important facts and myths related to breast cancer in women.
Myth: Family history is the most significant risk factor for breast cancer.
“Family history is certainly a risk factor, particularly if you have a first-degree relative, such as a mother, sister or daughter, who has or had pre-menopausal breast cancer,” says Sonya Kella, MD, medical director of Adventist HealthCare Breast Center at Shady Grove in Rockville, MD.
“However, because media attention has focused on the BRCA 1 and 2 genes (those linked to breast cancer risk), people believe it’s impossible to get breast cancer if it doesn’t run in your family,” she adds. “That’s a myth we have to dispel.” You can still be at risk due to other factors, some of which you can control – and others you can’t.
For example, breast density is a major risk factor, as women with dense breasts are 6 times more likely to develop breast cancer. You can only know if you have dense breasts by having a mammogram, says Kella.
Myth: A woman’s age doesn’t matter.
The greatest risk factor for breast cancer may be a surprise to many women. It is age. “As a woman gets older, her risk increases,” says Kella. “That’s why all women over age 40 should be screened.”
Most invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 or older, according to the American Cancer Society.
Myth: Lifestyle does not affect breast cancer risk.
A healthy lifestyle – and controlling weight – will actually protect against breast cancer, says Laurie Herscher, MD, medical director of Adventist HealthCare Integrative Oncology program.
“With obesity, high blood glucose triggers damaging inflammation throughout the body,” she says. “High blood glucose is the “canary in the coal mine” for multiple health problems, including breast cancer risk.”
Obesity also leads to higher estrogen levels, which increases the risk of breast cancer. Women who have never been pregnant and obese women typically have higher estrogen levels.
As with all types of cancer, smoking greatly increases risk of breast cancer, according to Herscher. Smoking is linked to a higher breast cancer risk in premenopausal women.
“If there’s any one magic bullet to preventing breast cancer, it’s exercise,” she advises. “Walking 30 minutes, 5 to 6 days a week, is great. Don’t sit too much during the day; get up and move around.”
An evening of health and fun to learn more
Join Adventist HealthCare and the RIO Washingtonian Center on Thursday, Oct. 6 from 4-9 p.m. for an evening of health, food and fun to raise awareness for breast cancer. Learn your risk for breast cancer through a free online risk assessment to receive a bag of special gifts and discounts to the stores and restaurants at the RIO. Learn more at www.AdventistHealthCare.com/Pink.