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Breast Cancer: Risks and Prevention

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Of those 200,000, approximately 40,000 die annually from breast cancer. Because the chance of cure is greater with early detection, it is important for women to know the risk factors for breast cancer and what measures can be taken to recognize breast cancer early.

Am I at risk for breast cancer?

The following are risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer (particulary a mother or sister with breast cancer)
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Age - risk for breast cancer increases with age
  • Early onset of first menstural cycle (before age 12)
  • Menopause after age 55
  • Women who have not had children or women who have had their first child after age 30
  • Hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women has been associated with an increased risk for breast cancer
  • Oral contraceptive use and alcohol may also increase your risk for breast cancer

Other possible risk factors - The following risk factors have not been proven, but have also been suggested to be possible causes of breast cancer.

  • Smoking
  • Breast implants
  • Abortion
  • Antiperspirant use

What about the breast cancer gene?

Researchers have identified two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that appear to be linked to breast cancer. Women with this gene have a significantly higher chance of developing breast cancer. DNA testing is available to test for both genes.

What can I do to prevent breast cancer?

  • Perform a breast self exam once a month around 5-7 days after the start of your menstrual cycle.
  • Women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have a breast exam by their health care provider at least every three years.
  • The American Medical Association and American Cancer Society recommend women age 40 or above have an annual mammogram.
  • Women under age 40 do not need to have a routine mammogram unless recommended by their physician.

Report any symptoms of breast cancer promptly as early detection is the best way to prevent breast cancer. If you are at risk for breast cancer consult your doctor for more information.

Related Resources:
American Cancer Society - Breast Cancer Overview
National Cancer Institute - Breast Cancer Home Page
American Medical Association - Policies on Breast Cancer

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