Did you know that breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women? Or that men can get breast cancer? Or that, when caught and treated early, many types of breast cancer have almost a 100% cure rate?
Breast cancer — which occurs when breast cells grow out of control, form a tumor and become malignant — affected more than 250,000 people in 2018, according to the National Cancer Institute. About 3.5 million women are living with breast cancer in the United States, and more than 12% of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes.
The number of deaths from breast cancer is 20.6 per 100,000 women per year; the death rate among all cancers (men and women) is 163.5 per 100,000 people, so breast cancer has a much higher rate of survival. It typically responds very well to treatment; almost nine out of 10 women treated for breast cancer are alive five years after their diagnoses. The success of treatment is heavily dependent on how early in the cancer’s development it’s diagnosed; more than 60% of cases are found in the early stages of cancer, before it’s metastatized to other organs, the treatment of which has a 99% five-year survival rate.
Breast cancer, like all types of cancer, doesn’t have a lot of easy answers about what causes it or what people can do to lessen their chances of developing a tumor. However, researchers have identified some contributing factors.
A family history of cancer is a big one. Women whose grandmothers, mothers or sisters had breast cancer should talk to their doctors about effective testing techniques at an earlier age than is normally recommended. Other possible factors include having dense breast tissue; exposing breast tissue to estrogen because of late menopause, never giving birth, early menstruation or being older at the birth of a woman’s first child. Taking hormones also may contribute. Health factors like alcohol use and obesity also may contribute to cancer risk for all cancers.
We don’t know how to prevent cancer, but there are steps women can take that are thought to reduce the risk of breast cancer; these protective factors include estrogen-only hormone therapy after a hysterectomy, healthy eating and exercise and other lifestyle factors. Test Your Breast Cancer Knowledge here.