According to cancer.gov, the most common type of cancer is breast cancer, with 284,200 new cases expected in the U.S. in 2021. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re looking for answers that may explain this statistic.
What we know
There’s data to support the steady increase (approximately 0.5% per year) of breast cancer cases in recent years, but there’s currently no information to support why breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. While the rationale here may be unclear, we have a much better understanding of controllable and noncontrollable risks that may increase the likelihood of getting breast cancer. The risk factors are plentiful and may provide some background information as to why it’s so common because so many of us are susceptible to one or more of the identified risk factors.
Risks and Prevention
Some established risks of breast cancer can be mitigated through lifestyle changes, while other risk factors are unavoidable. For example, since less than one percent of all breast cancers occur in men, just being a woman is considered a risk factor and one that’s inevitable. Some other risk factors include smoking, being overweight/obese, exposure to radiation, genetics, race/ethnicity, alcohol consumption and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), among others.
Trying to avoid eligible risks associated with developing breast cancer is paramount and will likely improve your overall health as well, but cancer is a relentless disease and may appear despite your best efforts.
Screenings and Mammograms
You may have learned about mammograms at a young age when you overheard your mom and her friends complaining about the procedure, but mammography has come a long way in recent years and for women, mammograms are considered the best way to detect breast cancer in its early stages, when it’s easiest to treat. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts that detect masses and microcalcifications (small deposits of calcium). Innovations like 3D mammograms (breast tomosynthesis) can create 3D images, as well as standard, two-dimensional images, which can more accurately detect problems or abnormalities in the breasts.
The American Cancer Society advises women between the ages of 40-44 to decide if they’re like to start annual breast cancer screenings (mammograms). Thereafter, it’s advised that women 45 to 54 years old get a mammogram annually. Women 55 years old and older can continue with yearly screenings or opt to switch to getting mammograms every other year.
Your best defense against breast cancer is regular screenings (mammograms) and at-home breast self-examinations. Self-exams can be performed at any age, but speak to your doctor to discuss your risk and when you should begin getting mammograms if it differs from the American Cancer Society recommendations.
To learn more about breast cancer and your risk, make an appointment with your physician today.