Important Questions to Ask About Your Breast Cancer Risk
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in American women besides skin cancer. One in every 10 women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime.
The reports of what may or may not put you at risk can leave you confused. To help determine your risk, ask yourself these six simple questions:
- How old are you? Risk increases with age. "Although breast cancer can be diagnosed at any age, most cases occur in women age 50 and older," said Arnold Baskies, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon on staff at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County.
- When did you get your first period? Women who start menstruating before age 12 have an increased risk of developing breast cancer later in life. These women have had longer exposure to the hormone estrogen, which may be linked to the disease.
- At what age did you have your first child? Women who had their first full-term pregnancy after age 30 have an increased breast-cancer risk. Women who have never had a child also have a higher risk.
- How many first-degree relatives have had the disease? Many women who get breast cancer have no family history. But a positive diagnosis in your sisters, daughters or mother -- especially before age 50 -- increases your own chances. "This risk may increase more if there's a family history of both breast and ovarian cancer," said Dr. Baskies.
- Have you had any previous breast biopsies? When a doctor removes a sample of breast tissue or cells to check for cancer, a woman faces a higher risk. Whether the results are positive or negative, the biopsy doesn't cause cancer -- but whatever prompted the concern might. For example, changes in breast tissue and other abnormalities are associated with a higher risk of developing the disease.
- What is your race? Caucasian women are most often diagnosed with breast cancer, while African- American women often have more aggressive forms resulting in the lowest survival rates.
"Just because you have one or more risk factors, it is not time to panic," said Dr. Baskies. "Many women with known risk factors never develop breast cancer, and others who do develop the disease have no known risk factors besides growing older. That is why it is important to do regular breast self-exams, get an annual checkup and have a mammogram according to your doctor's recommendations."
Get our FREE booklet, Breast Health, to learn more about common conditions and the importance of regular screening. To order, call 1-888-LOURDES (568-7337).