A recent study revealed that Angelina Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy has increased awareness about reconstructive breast surgeries as well as breast cancer. However, the social media buzz surrounding her case may have also led a lot of women to think that only those with a hereditary link or genetic mutation are susceptible to breast cancer, as was the case with Ms. Jolie.
Harboring such a misconception can be dangerous and draw attention away from breast cancer awareness. So, here is what you need to know about the disease:
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of all cancer deaths among women in the US.
- It is also the second most diagnosed cancer after skin cancer.
- In 2015, over 230,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.
- Less than 15% of breast cancer patients have a family history of the disease. However, a close relative who has the ailment and/or has died from it doubles the risk of breast cancer.
- Genetic mutation of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes are only responsible for 5-10% breast cancer cases.
Why is breast cancer awareness crucial?
As you can see from the figures above, a massive 85% of breast cancer cases have no genetic or hereditary link. Also, contrary to perception, breast cancer is not a post-menopausal disorder. Yes, the risk of this form of cancer does increase with age, but hundreds of women who are below the age of 50 are also diagnosed with the disease. This highlights the importance of self-breast exams and regular mammograms.
What can you do to protect yourself?
If breast cancer is diagnosed while the malignancy is still limited to the mammary tissue, the five year survival rate of the patient is a good 99%. So, women who are between 50 to 75 years old should get a mammogram every two years while those below this age range should talk to their doctor about when they should start screening mammograms.
If you are in your twenties or thirties, a self-administered breast exam is a must. Feel for any abnormal growth, gland or lump. Any kind of swelling, skin irritation or dimpling or pain in the breast or nipples should not be ignored. Nipple discharge and thickening of the breast skin may also be symptoms of breast cancer.
Is there anything you can do to prevent breast cancer?
Although there is no surefire way to prevent the disease, certain lifestyle changes do lower the risk of breast cancer; these include:
- Physical activity: 2- 2.5 hours of brisk walking each week lowers the risk breast cancer by 18%.
- Give up alcohol: Women who have 2-5 drinks a day are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from breast cancer than those who don’t consume alcohol.
- Weight control: Putting on weight, especially after menopause also makes women more susceptible to the disease.
- Healthy diet: Some studies found that breast cancer cases were lower in countries where the typical diet is low in fats.
- Smoking: Recent research has shown that smoking does indeed increase the risk of breast cancer.
- HRT: Both hormone replacement therapy after menopause and oral contraceptives lead to higher risk of breast cancer.
Remember in the US alone, one death every 14 minutes is attributed to breast cancer. But early diagnosis can indeed save lives. So, you owe it to yourself to take the time out for regular breast examinations.