Breast Cancer: Understanding your risk

woman exercisingThis is the first in a three-part weekly series to help you learn more about your risk of breast cancer.

The numbers are alarming. This year there will be an estimated 232,340 new cases of breast cancer reported among women and 2,240 among men. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. Many of us personally know someone who has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and an oft-cited statistic states that “one-in-seven” women will get breast cancer.

These, however, are global statistics. What do they mean for you personally? They really don’t indicate your risk. Although anyone can get breast cancer, some of us have a greater risk of the disease due to genetics or lifestyle choices. Also, our risk changes as we age. Knowing more about our own risk can be helpful in terms of monitoring your health.

What factors affect my breast cancer risk?

Age is the biggest determinant. Simply put, your risk increases with age.

Other factors that may be of concern include:

  • Family history of breast cancer, especially if female relatives were diagnosed at an early age.
  • Genetics (mutations of BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes)
  • Early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 50)
  • Delayed childbirth (a first child after age 30) or never having      children
  • Smoking
  • History of biopsies revealing pre-cancerous conditions such as atypical ductal hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ
  • Obesity
  • Long time alcohol abuse

What can I do to change my risk?

Of course you can’t change your genetics or reduce your age. And, there are no magic diets to prevent breast cancer, but there are some things you can do.

Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can make a difference. So can giving up smoking and limiting amount of alcohol you drink.

The most important thing you can do is to be diligent about cancer detection. Learn to do a proper breast self-exam to increase the chances that you will detect even slight changes in your body. Also, have clinical breast exam and get a mammogram annually. These three things combined give you the best chance of detecting cancer early, when it is most treatable.

ella health has a new program that includes a comprehensive breast cancer exam and breast-self exam education using a realistic model that you can take home with you. To learn more, visit our website .

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