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Breast Cancer Awareness- Understanding Your Risks

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many often don't have a plan in place to detect the disease early on. Today, 1 in 8 women born in the United States will have a breast cancer diagnosis at some point.  

The good news…there continues to be a high survival rate for those diagnosed if the cancer is found and treated in its earliest stages; increasing the importance of understanding individual risk factors and taking preventative measures.

Breastcancer.org provides some known risk factors for breast cancer. If you or a loved one is concerned about some of the risk factors below, become educated in learning how best to take protective strides toward minimizing your risk for a breast cancer diagnosis.

10 Known Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

1. Being a Woman:

Just being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer. There are about 190,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 60,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer this year in American women.

2. Age:

As with many other diseases, your risk of breast cancer goes up as you get older. About two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 or older.

3. Family History:

Women with close relatives who've been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease. If you've had one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is doubled.

4. Genetics:

About 5% to 10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, caused by abnormal genes passed from parent to child.

5. Personal History of Breast Cancer:

If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, you're 3 to 4 times more likely to develop a new cancer in the other breast or a different part of the same breast.

6. Exposure to Chest or Face Radiation before Age 30:

If you had radiation to the chest to treat another cancer (not breast cancer), such as Hodgkin's disease or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, you have a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer. If you had radiation to the face at an adolescent to treat acne (something that’s no longer done), you are at higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

7. Being Overweight:

Overweight and obese women have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause.

8. Certain Breast Changes:

If you've been diagnosed with certain benign (not cancer) breast conditions, you may have a higher risk of breast cancer. There are several types of benign breast conditions that affect breast cancer risk

9. Race/Ethnicity:

White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American, Hispanic, and Asian women. But African American women are more likely to develop more aggressive, more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at a young age.

10. Drinking Alcohol:

Research continues to show that drinking alcoholic beverages -- beer, wine, and liquor -- increases a woman's risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Although we cannot control certain factors that may increase our risk of breast cancer (family history, genetics, ethnicity); we can make lifestyle decisions to help decrease our risk for diagnosis.

  • Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol — including beer, wine or liquor — limit yourself to no more than one drink a day.
  • Don't smoke. Accumulating evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women. In addition, not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
  • Manage your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. 
MedicAlert Team Member