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Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S., other than skin cancer. While the disease cannot be prevented, there are ways to help reduce risk of breast cancer.
Kristin Elo, MPAS, is a certified physician assistant at Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s David and Donna Long Cancer Center. She answers questions and provides facts about breast cancer, offering tips on making healthier decisions — based on knowledge of lifestyle, genetic and individual risk factors — that can help reduce your risk.
What is breast cancer, and how common is it?
Breast cancer is defined as a malignant, or invasive growth, of abnormal cells that develop in breast cells which can spread throughout the body.
According to the American Cancer Society most recent estimates for 2011, there are:
The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is a little less 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35.
The good news is that there has been a decrease in breast cancer death rates, most likely because of earlier detection and better treatment. Today, there are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Which risk factors have the most impact on a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer?
Strong family history of breast cancer and genetic factors; hormonal factors, such as use of combined progesterone and estrogen in the postmenopausal setting; exposure to radiation; and smoking all increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer.
Lifestyle factors, such as physical activity and eating habits, can contribute to risk. Women who are overweight have a higher risk of breast cancer as there is more estrogen produced in fatty tissue. Other risk factors can include:
When comparing modern times to life 50 years ago, why has the incidence of breast cancer increase among women?
We are better at screening for breast cancer and more women and men are educated about the disease so detection rates are higher and we are catching these cancers earlier. Other factors that influence this increase in incidence is the nationwide increase in obesity and that we are living longer.
What tips can you offer to help women reduce their breast cancer risk?
Screenings and early detection are important ways that women can protect themselves. In addition to having routine breast exams by your health care professional, be sure to conduct monthly self exams and look for signs such as:
Nutrition and healthy food choices are also important to consider in reducing your breast cancer risk. Women in their childbearing years may benefit from regular intake of calcium (1,000 milligrams) and vitamin D (400 to 600 IU). Phytoestrogens, such as those found in soy bean and other legumes, and fruits and vegetables, may also help reduce risk. Additionally, try limiting fat intake, and consumption of alcohol and red meat.
Lastly, lifestyle habits, such as increasing physical activity, eating healthy (organic foods and meals prepared at home), maintaining ideal weight, avoid plastics containing bisphenol A (BPA) and quitting smoking can all help reduce risk.
Find a San Diego Oncologist
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego oncologist specializing in breast cancer or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.