Fear of developing breast cancer—the second most common cause of all cancer deaths in women— tops the list of health concerns for many women. This is a legitimate worry considering that in 2009 more than 192,000 women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 40,000 women will die because of it.
Being a woman and getting older are the two main risk factors for breast cancer. Family history, personal history of certain cancers, no pregnancies or first pregnancy later in life, starting your period before age 12, menopause at age 55 or after, obesity, alcohol intake, and use of some types of hormone therapy (HT) can also increase a woman’s risk. You can learn more about your risk of developing breast cancer and other cancers at www.ProtectAndDetect.org.
Breast cancer is often related to prolonged exposure to the hormone estrogen, and excess fat tissue promotes estrogen production. Maintain a healthy weight or shed extra pounds to help control estrogen levels.
Women who drink two or more alcoholic beverages a day are more likely to develop breast cancer than women who drink less. Limiting your consumption can help lower your risk.
The use of combined estrogen-progestin hormone therapy can increase the risk of breast cancer. ACOG recommends that women use the lowest dose necessary to relieve menopausal symptoms for the shortest amount of time possible.
Women with breast cancer have up to a 98% survival rate when it is caught at an early stage. Earlier detection and advances in treatment have led to the gradual decrease in breast cancer deaths. Regular mammograms are crucial to identifying tumors when they are most treatable, but unfortunately, the number of women being screened has declined. Women ages 40–49 should have a mammogram every 1–2 years. Women age 50 and older should have a mammogram annually.
If you have certain risk factors, such as being a carrier of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, your doctor may suggest mam-mography screening at a younger age. High-risk women should discuss their prevention options with their doctors.
All women should have their breasts examined by their doctor annually. Performing breast self-exams are also a good way to get to know your breasts and understand what’s normal for you.
As a national sponsor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, ACOG encourages women to focus on breast health. For more information about breast cancer, treatment options, and how to get free screenings and low- or no-cost prescription medication, go to www.nbcam.org.