Breast cancer victims are our mothers, our sisters, our friends and, yes, sometimes our fathers and brothers. They come from all walks of life — rich, poor, middle class. They are of every race and religion. In October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, women and men are being reminded that they can improve their chances of avoiding or surviving the disease through prevention and early detection. In other words, by being aware.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. Based on current incidence rates, 12.4 percent of women born in the U.S. today — one in eight — will develop breast cancer at some time during their lives, although doctors seldom know why one woman gets breast cancer and another doesn’t, and most women who have the disease will never be able to pinpoint an exact cause. Experts do know, however, that it is always caused by damage to a cell’s DNA.
There are risk factors that you cannot change. One, obviously, is gender. Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. It occurs among men as well, but it is about 100 times more common among women. Another factor is age. Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. And the third important factor is genetics: About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.
What you can do to lower your risk
The American Cancer Society recommends doing several things to improve your chances of catching the disease in its early stages:
• Get a mammogram. All women who are 40 and older should have an annual mammogram. This is still the most effective screening method for early detection.
• Women ages 20 to 39 should have a clinical breast exam every three years. Those who are 40 and older should have the exam annually.
• Starting at age 20, women should do monthly breast self-exams. Your doctor can show you how this is done, and what a normal breast feels like.