Breast Cancer in America
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in U.S. women, affecting one in eight women at some point in their lives. The American Cancer Society, estimates, this year, 230,480 new cases of invasive female breast cancer will be diagnosed in this country. Another 57,650 women will be diagnosed with carcinoma in situ (the very earliest, localized form of breast cancer). In 2011, 39,520 women will die from the cancer.
The risk for breast cancer increases with age. Two-thirds of all cases are diagnosed in women 55 and older. Women who have a first degree relative with breast cancer have twice the risk of also developing the disease. Women who have a prior history of breast cancer are at higher risk for developing a new breast cancer (not a recurrence). Breast cancer is also higher in white women as opposed to African-American women (though black women are more likely to die from the cancer), women with dense breast tissue, those with certain types of breast diseases and females who start menstruating at an early age or complete menopause after 55.
Reducing Risk for Breast Cancer
Women can't change their personal or family medical history. But there are other, modifiable, factors associated with increased risk for breast cancer. Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, especially after menopause. Lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol may also increase the risk for breast cancer.
For the average woman, living a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk for breast cancer. However, Robert Gramling, M.D., D.Sc., Family Physician with the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY, and his colleagues wanted to know if these same lifestyle activities could benefit women who are at higher risk because of a family history of breast cancer.
The researchers scanned data from the Women's Health Initiative, a nationwide study of more than 85,000 women, excluding only women with a strong genetic history of the cancer. After analysis, the investigators found maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake and getting regular exercise could reduce the risk for breast cancer, even in women with a family history of the cancer.
Gramling compares breast cancer risk to a cup of coffee. He says women without a family history of breast cancer have a risk like a ten-ounce cup of coffee. Women with a family history have a larger risk and are holding a bigger cup, more like 12 ounces. But for either group, women who engage in the three healthy lifestyle choices (exercise, limiting alcohol use and keeping a healthy weight) can pour off two ounces from their cups (i.e., reduce their risk).
Gramling says women who have a family history of breast cancer often feel they are doomed to get the disease. However, the findings show that everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle.
Research compiled and edited by Barbara J. Fister
American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast
National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov
Susan G. Komen for the Cure, http://www.komen.org
Y Me National Breast Cancer Organization, http://www.y-me.org