October 1, 2015 | Latest Photo
October is also when the annual Making Strikes Against Breast Cancer fundraising walks are held across the United States. (To find one near you, check the American Cancer Society website.)
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Cancer Society estimates 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Related: Quiz: Test Your Awareness Ribbon IQ
Simply being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and the risk increases as you get older. Two of three invasive breast cancers are found in women older than 55. Between five and 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning the person inherited a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
Women who haven't had children or who had them after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk, as do women with dense breast tissue, the American Cancer Society says. If you started menstruating before age 12 and/or went through menopause after 55, your risk may be higher because your body has had more exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Race plays a small role — white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women, but African-American women are more likely to die from the disease.
The American Cancer Society recommends women age 40 and older get a mammogram every year. Women who are at increased risk for breast cancer due to family history or genetic tendency should have an MRI in addition to a mammogram.
The National Cancer Institute says regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight and making good dietary choices are protective factors against breast cancer. How can exercise help? "Physical activity may prevent tumor development by lowering hormone levels, particularly in premenopausal women; lowering levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), improving the immune response; and assisting with weight maintenance to avoid a high body mass and excess body fat," according to the National Cancer Institute.
Also, if you smoke, consider quitting to reduce your risk.
Men can get breast cancer, too, though it's about 100 times less common in men than in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015, about 2,350 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men and some 440 men will die from breast cancer.
Men are even opting to have preventive breast removal surgery in their cancer-free breast, as some women do. The Dana Farber Cancer Institute found a sharp increase over the past 20 years in the number of men diagnosed with breast cancer who are choosing to have their cancer-free breast removed along with the one that has cancer, despite a lack of evidence the surgery helps men (or women) live longer.
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