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14 Interesting Facts About Breast Cancer

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD

Every October, you may notice lots of pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink lights, pink sneakers… The color pink has become, for many, a symbol of breast cancer awareness. And, with October being breast cancer awareness month, we thought it would be timely to share some interesting facts about breast cancer to promote awareness, funding and treatment.

1.      In the United States, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
That is up from the 1970’s when lifetime risk for breast cancer was 1 in 11.  Today, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. It is estimated that in 2021, 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed. What’s more, every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the US.

2.      Breast cancer takes many lives.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the U.S. and the first leading cause of cancer death among women around the world. The chance that a woman will die of breast cancer is about 1 in 39 (about 2.6%).

3.      Breast cancer has many survivors.

There are more than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the US. This includes women still being treated and those who have completed treatment. As treatments continue to improve over time, doctors are hoping the number of survivors will increase.

4.      Men can get breast cancer, too.
Men account for less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. While certainly not as frequent, that is still more than 2,000 new cases expected each year. In 2021, about 2,650 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease.

5.      Most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known genetic risk factors.

Gender and age seem to be the biggest risk factors, with increased age related to an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer. In fact, approximately 93% of all breast cancers occur in women 40 and older.  Only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers can be traced to specific, inherited gene mutations, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Less than one percent of the general population have a BRCA mutation.

6.      Certain lifestyles can increase the chance of getting breast cancer.
Obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer. Why? Estrogen is carried in fat cells. So, more fat cells mean more estrogen in the body. Being overweight can also increase the risk of breast cancer recurring in women who have had the disease. What’s more, women with high lifetime exposure to estrogen for any reason may have increased risk of getting breast cancer. Other lifestyle risk factors include smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

7.     Exercise may be a great way to reduce your risk of getting breast cancer.
Women who exercise regularly have a lower risk of getting breast cancer than women who are more sedentary. In fact, regular exercise may reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer by 10-20%.

8.      Breast cancer impacts all women but not the same.

Non-Hispanic white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer. However, Black women have a higher incidence rate before age 45 and are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age. Asian and Hispanic women have the third and fourth highest rates in the U.S.

9.      There are several ways to detect breast cancer early.
It is recommended that women over 40 perform a self-breast exam monthly. Mammograms can also be important. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women get a mammogram every year starting at the age of 45 years. By the time women reach 55 years, ACS recommends a mammogram every other year if there are no breast health concerns.

10.  A second opinion can be key.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it is a good idea to consider getting a second opinion. One study found that 43% of women who received a second opinion had a change in their diagnosis.

11.  There is a relatively good prognosis when diagnosed early.
There are over 3 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. The five-year relative survival rate is 90%. 63% of breast cancers are diagnosed while they are still at the localized stage and have a five-year survival rate of 98.9%.

12. Breast cancer has been called the “nun’s disease.”

Women who never had children, including lifelong nuns, have an increased chance of dying from breast (as well as ovarian and uterine cancers) as compared with mothers. Why? It appears the more menstrual cycles a woman has, the greater risk she encounters in developing these cancers.

13.  3 states have the highest rates of breast cancer.

District of Columbia, Hawaii, and New Jersey have the highest rates of breast cancer in the U.S. The states with the lowest breast cancer rates are Wyoming, Arizona, and Alaska.

14.  Breast density can make it harder to detect breast cancer.

An Increased amount of glandular and connective tissue in breasts can make it more difficult to identify cancer cells in a mammogram, increasing the chances that breast cancer may go undetected. About 36% of women in the United States between the ages of 40 to 74 have dense breasts. 



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