Breast Cancer: Early Detection and Treatment Key to Survival
As terrifying as it used to sound, Breast Cancer is no longer as dreadful as it was several years ago. It’s still a serious disease but thanks to improvements in cancer treatments, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today.
BY: Ranya Elguendy
Approximately 5%-10% of breast cancers are due to inherited genetic mutations, like BRCA1 and BRCA2. People with these mutations have a 40%-80% risk of contracting breast cancer and a high risk of ovarian cancer. Other factors that increase risk are:
-First period before age 12; menopause after 55; excess weight after menopause
-First child after age 30; no children; taking birth control pills for five years or longer
-Drinking more than one alcoholic drink per day
-Current or recent use of combined estrogen and synthetic progestogen or progesterone hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
-High breast density; a previous biopsy showing hyperplasia (an excessive growth of tissue) or carcinoma in situ (a localized, microscopic form of cancer)
-Exposure to large amounts of radiation; treatment for Hodgkin’s disease at a young age
-History of breast or ovarian cancer.
Genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 raise your risk.
How do you estimate the likelihood of having a genetic mutation? Women with genetic mutations tend to get cancer before they are age 50. If you are older than 50 and do not have breast cancer, your odds of a genetic mutation are lower (but not zero).
If you have a mother, sister or daughter who had breast cancer before age 50 or ovarian cancer at any age, or you have a woman in your family who has had both breast and ovarian cancer or cancer in both breasts, you may have an inherited mutation. You are also at higher risk if you are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent or if you have a male relative who has had breast cancer.
The presence of inherited genetic mutations is still low even in the higher risk groups. For example, in women who get breast cancer before age 45 and have a family history of breast cancer, the incidence of the BRCA1 mutation is 7.2%. In other words, such women still have greater than a 90% chance of not having the mutation.
If you are concerned and wish to be tested for genetic mutations, speak with your physician who may refer you to a genetic counselor.
Racial and ethnic differences affect breast cancer risk.
The incidence and mortality of breast cancer in American women varies by race and ethnicity, perhaps because of inherited risk factors, differences in the biology of the breast cancer or differences in breast cancer screening rates. Caucasian women have the highest incidence of breast cancer while Native Americans have the lowest. African-American women have the highest mortality rate, and Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are least likely to die from breast cancer.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are more common among certain geographic or ethnic groups such as people of Ashkenazi (central or eastern European) Jewish heritage, Norwegians, Icelanders, and the Dutch.
Diet and exercise make a difference.
Weight gain after age 18 or after menopause is a risk factor. In turn, losing that added weight may decrease your chances of getting breast cancer. Diet combined with exercise can be important for managing your risk. In addition to fighting obesity, exercise lowers estrogen levels, which in turn may lower breast cancer risk. Physical activity also helps maintain a healthy immune system.
Lately, you may have heard a lot about the benefits of moderate amounts of wine. It’s true that a daily glass of wine may reduce heart attack risk. But that protection doesn’t extend to breast cancer; risk increases with more than one drink a day.
A few studies suggest a link between breast cancer and eating foods rich in fat, but that association has not been firmly established. Interestingly, the type of fat does not seem to matter. The evidence is clearer linking obesity after menopause and adult weight gain to breast cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy can raise breast cancer risk.
Lifetime exposure to estrogen provides a constant stimulus to breast cells. Early onset of puberty, late onset of menopause and having children after age 30 – all events associated with increased estrogen production – are risk factors. This does not prove, however, that estrogen causes breast cancer.