We all know about cancer and how it is one of the top causes of death among Americans, yet within the topic of “cancer” lies hundreds of different kinds, ranging in severity. Breast cancer is known worldwide as a serious cancer that affects thousands of women each year; it is the most common cancer among females in the United States, and is the 2nd leading cancer that causes death. Millions of women develop it, millions of women beat it, and millions of people don’t survive it. But, do we really know the facts and risks behind this cancer that is so predominant in today’s world?
What is breast cancer and what role does it play in society?
A type of cancer that has many different forms and stages, breast cancer is considered a malignant tumor, or a collective build-up of cancer cells, that arise from the cells of the breast. Although it is most common in females, it is possible for males to develop breast cancer as well. In males, breast cancer typically forms in the ducts that transport milk to the nipple, while it forms in the glands that generate milk in women. Yet, it is evidently more predominant in females; 1 of every 8 females will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2009, 211,731 women developed the disease, and 40,676 women died from this aggressive type of cancer. The numbers seem terrifying, yet being diagnosed with breast cancer isn’t an immediate death sentence: there are over 2.5 million survivors that live to tell their stories today. Although the specific causes of breast cancer aren’t identified or known, there are many risks that can make one susceptible to developing malignant tumors.
What risks can lead to the development of breast cancer?
There are no specific causes for breast cancer, but many of our hereditary characteristics or daily activities can increase our risk of developing it. Here are some of the main factors that make you more susceptible to the disease:
Age: The older a person gets, the more likely they are to develop breast cancer. It is uncommon for younger females or males to be diagnosed with breast cancer
Family history and genetics: Developing breast cancer is more common among women who have relatives that have the disease. Having a close relative like a mother, sister or daughter that has breast cancer can double the risk due to genetics.
Excessive exposure to chest radiation
Race: A Caucasian female has an increased chance of being diagnosed than an African-American female, though tumors tend to be less aggressive in white women.
Early menstruation: A female whose menstrual cycle began at an earlier age– usually before the age of 12– are more likely to develop it than those whose menstrual cycles started at a normal age
Weight: Having an unhealthy weight will make a person more likely to develop cancer; someone who is overweight or obese has a higher chance of being diagnosed.
Consumption of alcohol: The amount of alcohol consumed and the excessive use of drinking plays a role in a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer.
How to lower your risk of developing breast cancer
Although some of the risk factors for being diagnosed are genetic or pre-conceived characteristics that one cannot control (age, family history, race), there are ways to reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. By increasing the amount of exercise you do, you can lower your risk and also maintain a healthy weight. Limiting your alcohol intake to one drink a day and refraining from smoking are lifestyle changes that will not only lower your chance of developing breast cancer, but these changes will also help your body be less vulnerable to other diseases. The main way to lower your risk of developing a severe form of breast cancer is to be aware of your body. Always check for lumps or skin changes by giving yourself monthly breast self-exams. If you are unaware how to give yourself an exam, check out these tips here.
Each year, thousands of women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Many have overcome the disease and to this day are survivors of one of the deadliest cancers, yet more and more women are being diagnosed with this disease each day. By knowing the facts and reducing your risk, you can utilize the opportunity you have to maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay cancer free.