By Dr. Lisa M. Jukes

Breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer death in women with lung cancer being the number one killer. The incidence of breast cancer diagnosis varies by age group but, an average of 1/9 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. 2.6% of women will die from breast cancer per the American Cancer Society. The good news is that women age 50 and older continue to see the death rate decrease. From 2013 to 2017, the death rate in this age group decreased by 1.3% per year. The decreases are believed to be secondary to detecting cancer earlier through screening and practicing increased breast awareness, in addition to better treatment. There are 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, including those that have completed treatment and those that are still being treated.

Risk factors for breast cancer that cannot be changed are getting older, genetic mutations, early menstrual periods (before age 12), late menopause (a[er age 55), having dense Issue sometimes makes it harder to detect tumors, personal history of breast cancer or precancerous breast diseases (atypical hyperplasia, lobular carcinoma in situ), family history of breast or ovarian cancer (first-degree relatives with breast cancer, multiple family members with breast cancer on either side, a male relative with breast cancer, family history of ovarian cancer), previous radiation treatment to the chest/breast area before age 30, and women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol and their daughters.

Risk factors that YOU can change: engage in physical activity, maintain a normal weight, avoid certain hormones, breastfeed, bear children by age 30, limit alcohol intake, avoid tobacco products, and optimize overall nutritional status. For instance, there is data that indicates low vitamin D levels are associated with breast cancer diagnoses and poor prognosis.

Early detection of breast cancer is very important. Mammograms can help find breast changes that could be cancer years before physical symptoms develop. Many decades of research clearly show that women that have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer detected early, less likely to need aggressive treatment, and more likely to be cured. 3D mammograms have become more common and several studies have shown them to be helpful for women with dense breast issues. In certain cases, MRI or breast ultrasound may be recommended in addition to mammogram. No imaging is perfect. Women should also be familiar with how their breasts normally feel and look and should always report changes to their health care provider right away. 

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