10 Need-to-Know Facts About Breast Cancer

10 Need-to-Know Facts About Breast Cancer

1. More to fear than fear itself
Surveys indicate that the no. 1 health fear of most women is breast cancer. As such, breast cancer statistics are alarming. In fact, a new case of breast cancer is diagnosed in the United States about every 3.5 minutes. Not only are more than 180,000 American women affected with breast cancer each year, approximately 41,000 women in the United States die annually from the disease.

2. Not a death sentence
Early detection is the key to surviving breast cancer. The earlier you diagnose the disease, the greater your chances of preventing the disease from advancing to a more serious stage. For example, the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with local breast cancer (Stages 1 and 2) is 98% compared with just 26% for those who are diagnosed with distant metastasized cancer (Stage 4).

3. Safeguarding your health
Mammograms are considered the most effective tool for the early detection of breast cancer. Mammograms, which should be performed annually by all women beginning at age 40 years, can detect breast cancer up to 2 years before a lump can actually be felt - a feature that is particularly important given the fact that in the early stages of breast cancer, no signs or symptoms of the condition exist. Furthermore, once a woman reaches the age of 20 years, the American Cancer Society recommends that she should perform a monthly breast self-examination.

4. The truth will set you free
It is not true that the size of a woman’s breasts affects her risk for getting breast cancer. In turn, wearing or not wearing a brassiere has nothing to do with breast cancer risk. Furthermore, you can’t get breast cancer by bumping, bruising, or pinching your breast.

5. Not for women only
Although being female is the single most important risk factor for breast cancer, the disease does occur in men. Although rare, almost 2,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer annually.

6. The numbers don’t lie
Being physically active boosts the odds that breast cancer patients will survive the disease. In fact, aerobically fit women are three times less likely to die of breast cancer that those who live a sedentary lifestyle. As such, with regard to surviving breast cancer, the benefits of exercise are greater in women whose breast cancer is sensitive to the hormone estrogen. Furthermore, exercise also has been shown to have a positive impact on the level of risk in developing breast cancer in the first place.

7. Everything is relative
Because the risk of developing breast cancer is not the same for all women, every woman should be proactive in knowing and addressing her own risk factors. As such, a woman’s personal risk of breast cancer is related to both her genetics and her lifestyle. For example, women with a strong family history of early breast cancer (i.e., two or more relatives diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 years) are at an increased risk for developing the disease as are women who drink alcohol to excess.

8. Autumn leaves
Advancing age is a risk factor for breast cancer. In fact, 80% of breast cancer cases occur in women older than 50 years.

9. Not for everyone
A woman’s decision whether to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to relieve her menopausal symptoms is complicated by the fact that HRT may affect her level of breast cancer risk, depending on the timing and type of HRT. The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that longer durations of HRT are often associated with an elevated risk of breast cancer, regardless of the timing from menopause onset.

10. Health maneuvers
Every woman’s breast cancer treatment strategy will be different, depending on the stage and characteristics of her cancer bout, her age, and the relative risks/benefits of various treatment options. After consulting with her physician, a woman should decide on the strategy that best addresses her own situation.

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.