You’ve seen the ribbons. October is breast cancer awareness month.
Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. According to the American Cancer Society, over 230,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease this year and just under 40,000 women will die from it. The good news is that the death rate has gradually been going down over the years, due to advances in detection and treatment.
The statistics aren’t the same for women of all races. Even though African American women have lower breast cancer rates than white women, it’s more likely to be more advanced and more aggressive when they are diagnosed with it. Unfortunately, they are also more likely to die from it.
There is a disparity between women of different economic backgrounds and breast cancer statistics. Poorer women are dying at a faster rate than women who are wealthier, and a significant reason is access to care. In fact, a study found nearly 73-percent of wealthier women over 40 had a screening mammogram in the past two years, while only 51 percent of poor women had one over the same time period.
The recommended age when women should start getting mammograms varies. The American Cancer Society says women should get yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force thinks women who aren’t at particularly high risk could get mammograms every two years starting at age 50. It is still generally recommended that women get an annual breast exam by their physician and that women do self-breast exams at home every month.
Does diet and exercise help prevent breast cancer? A recent study showed women who walked just 30 minutes a day lowered their risk of getting breast cancer by 20%. Another study found women who gained up to 30 pounds after the age of 18 were 40% more likely to get breast cancer, compared those women who didn’t gain excess weight.
People are recently starting to think that drinking also plays a role. Research suggests that the more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk. Therefore, it’s generally recommended that women limit their alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day.
Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy does increase the risk of breast cancer, so you should definitely talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. If you have significant menopausal symptoms, you might consider taking hormones at a low dose for a short period of time to minimize the risk.
On a brighter note, it is believed that breast-feeding has a protective effect and the longer you breast-feed, the greater the protection.
It’s certainly not common, but men can also get breast cancer. Men diagnosed early have a good chance of cure. If you’re a guy and notice a lump or abnormality in your chest, get it checked out right away. Some men wait way too long and the disease has advanced by the time it’s detected. The Boston Globe recently ran a story about a husband and wife who are both breast cancer survivors.
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