Women have a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute. A number of different risk factors contribute to a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society lists the following risk factors:
- Gender - Women are at greater risk than men, although men can get breast cancer.
- Age - Risk increases with age.
- Dense breast tissue - this type of tissue is at greater risk to develop cancer. Dense tissue also makes it more difficult to feel a lump or see one on a mammogram.
- Family History - A history of breast cancer in a close blood relative, your mom, sister or daughter.
- BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 Genes - Having these genes does not automatically mean you will get breast cancer and not having them does not mean you will never get it.
- Some benign breast conditions - Fibrosis, cysts, some benign tumors.
Additional risk factors include lifestyle choices that we can control:
- Excessive alcohol use
- Being overweight or obese
- Post-menopausal without having used menopause drugs
- Being physically inactive throughout much of life
Living with Breast Cancer
Facing a cancer diagnosis is never easy, even if you have been diagnosed before. There are many questions and fears that race through your mind. Many women find that keeping a cancer journal is a helpful outlet to voice things you may not want to say out loud.
Telling your kids about your breast cancer diagnosis may be the most challenging thing you will have to do after you’ve been diagnosed. BreastCancer.org advises that it is best to be honest with your children rather than hiding your breast cancer from them.
Talking to Young Children as well as older children and teens can be challenging because each age group has a different awareness of the disease and each reacts differently to emotional stress. BreastCancer.org advises:
- Be honest about your diagnosis and don't hide information.
- Be prepared for their fears about their own health as well as anxiety about the future.
- Scheduling family meetings where kids can talk about their fears about the changes they see happening.
A personalized story or storybook that you can share with your young child or children might be helpful. Telling friends and family, especially children, about a cancer diagnosis is difficult and scary. Beyond The Shock, a free online resource dedicated to helping women and their families deal with breast cancer, has information for dealing with all aspects of breast cancer.
Remember, you are not alone and other women have gone through each stage of breast cancer. There are breast cancer support groups where you can find advice for talking to family members. Caring Bridge is a free online resource that helps families deal with breast cancer. There are links to leave messages of hope for loved ones, a family support planner and many other links to get involved.
A breast cancer diagnosis does not automatically mean your cancer is incurable. Early diagnosis and a wide variety of treatment options are turning women into survivors every year. Don't be afraid to make plans to do the things you love. One of my friends was diagnosed with an aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer over three years ago. She chose to change a lot of things in her life, such as diet and exercise, in an effort to counteract the affects of her treatment and to minimize the risk a recurrence. I admire her so much for her strength and sheer will, not only to survive but to thrive. We often laugh because, no matter how bad she felt during the week or how down she got, she made time to go out and enjoy hot wings and beer with her husband every Friday night! If laughter is truly the best medicine, she's living proof.
|The Cleveland Leader, Breast Cancer Awareness Walk|
Staying ahead of the Curve
Even if you have no personal or family history of breast cancer, stay on top of your annual mammograms and monthly self breast exams. If, during your self-breast exams, you notice a breast lump, pain in breast or breast area, or breast cysts, it is vital to call your doctor and schedule an appointment to get it checked out. More often than not, the lumps and bumps we may find may simply be a cyst in breast tissue that forms during your normal menstrual cycle, but it isn’t worth taking the chance to wait and see if it goes away on its own.
Unfortunately, money issues sometimes cause us to put our own health needs on hold. Insurance companies cover yearly mammograms for women age 40 and over, but if you are younger and you need a mammogram, or you are uninsured, you may be eligible for a free mammogram. Search for “free mammograms +” and your state’s abbreviation to find clinics and programs that provide mammograms free of charge or at very low cost. The National Breast Cancer Foundation also works to provide women with free mammograms, as well as support services.
One final thing to keep in mind as we do our part to reduce our risk of breast cancer. Take the time to eat healthy and include exercise in our daily routine. The National Breast Cancer Foundation shares the following healthy habits to reduce our risk of getting breast cancer:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stay physically active
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Avoid tobacco
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Get regular screenings
Be sure to speak with your doctor if you think you have a family history or other risk factors to consider, as this might unveil additional practices for you to try in cancer prevention.
Stay tuned for our next article in the breast cancer miniseries, which will focus on pink ribbon products you can buy to support the fight for a cure!
Kathryn M. D'Imperio