Breast cancer is a disease in which abnormal breast cells grow and divide uncontrollably compared to healthy cells. According to the Central Disease Center (CDC), breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States. In addition, 12.4% of women will develop the disease in her lifetime. Early detection and advancement in treatment options have increased survival rates to 90%.
Anatomy of the Breast
The breast tissue is comprised of fat cells called adipose tissue. These fat cells span from the collarbone, underarm and across the ribcage. Breast cancer can develop in the three main parts of the breast: milk producing lobules, ducts that carry milk to the nipple or the fibrous connective tissue that provide support for the breast.
If the abnormal cells travel to other areas of the body where they are not normally found it is referred to as metastatic breast cancer. The cancerous cells spread through the blood stream or through the lymph system which is part of the immune system.
Who is at Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
Both men and women can develop breast cancer. However, men account for less than 1% of cases in the United States. One in eight women will develop breast cancer and two-thirds of cases are found in women 55 or older; although, women as young as 33 can develop the disease.
Researchers have identified three risk factors:
- Race – Caucasian and African-American have higher diagnosis rates than Hispanic or Asian women.
- Females – Women have a much higher propensity of developing breast cancer than men.
- Age – Women over 55 have higher rates of diagnosis.
- Personal or Family History – If you had breast cancer in one breast, there is a higher probability you will develop cancer in the other breast. Your risk is higher if your first-degree relative such as your mother, sister or daughter have been diagnosed before the age of 50.
- Genetic Mutations – Breast cancer can be inherited from either parent through gene mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 and is detected through genetic testing.
- Hormonal – There is a correlation between estrogen and increased risks. Beginning your period before age 12, giving birth after 30 or beginning menopause at an older age are events that raise your estrogen exposure and your risk. In addition, women who have never given birth are at greater risk than women who have.
- Dense Breast Tissue – Dense tissue contains less fat but more glandular and fibrous tissue which doubles your risk as compared to women who do not have dense tissue.
- Sedentary Lifestyle and Weight – Lack of exercise which can lead to obesity increases your odds, especially if you are overweight after menopause.
- Poor Diet – Diets high in saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables put you at greater risk.
- Alcohol Consumption – Frequent consumption of alcohol can increase your risk for breast cancer.
- Chest Radiation – Anyone 30 years of age or younger that have been exposed to chest radiation therapy have higher chances of developing breast cancer.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – Use of estrogen and progesterone for 4 or more years, as prescribed for menopausal women, can increase your risk.
Since some women with breast cancer do not experience symptoms, screening is still the best defense for early detection. Women who are between 40 and 54, should get a yearly mammogram. Methodist Health System invites you to schedule your mammogram today.