Five facts to consider about breast cancer

Aging Well | August 22, 2017
A few facts that might surprise you

Of all the diseases we face as women, few may concern us more than breast cancer.

The disease is common, but there are still misconceptions about it, according to the American Cancer Society. Here are a few facts that might surprise you:

1. Breast cancer is not the leading health threat to women. Heart disease is actually far deadlier for women. Nationwide, breast cancer causes 1 in 31 female deaths every year. But coronary heart disease causes 1 in 8 female deaths. And looking only at cancer deaths, lung cancer kills more women in the U.S. than breast cancer.

2. Most breast cancer is not inherited. Only about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers appear to develop directly from gene defects—such as those in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene—passed on from a parent. What’s more, even a family history of breast cancer is not as concerning as many women might fear. While having a close relative with breast cancer does raise your risk, less than 15 percent of women who get breast cancer have a family history of the disease.

3. A preventive mastectomy doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of breast cancer. Some women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer opt to have both breasts removed to avoid the disease. A preventive mastectomy can, in fact, reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 90 percent or more. But some risk still remains, since even a mastectomy can’t remove all breast tissue.

4. Dense breasts are a risk. Women with dense breasts have up to twice the risk of breast cancer as a woman with average breast density. Dense breasts may also make mammograms less accurate. Your doctor can tell you if you have dense breasts—you can’t tell by feeling them.

5. The effects of a fatty diet aren’t clear. Many studies indicate that breast cancer is less common in countries where the typical diet is low in fat. But so far studies haven’t found a definitive link between higher fat diets, like those eaten in the U.S., and breast cancer. The best thing you can do for your breast health is to stay in touch with your doctor. That way you can understand your personal risk and get screened at the right time.

Read more on breast health and where you can get care.