Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is about one in eight.
According to the American Cancer Society, 230,480 women will be diagnosed with this disease in 2011. Of those, about 39,520 will die from it. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
After increasing for several decades, incidents of female breast cancer has been decreasing by about 2 percent per year since 1998. However, this decrease has been only in those over age 50 and is thought to be primarily due to a decline in hormone therapy.
Breast cancer starts in the tissues of the breast. There are two main types:
• Ductal carcinoma is the most common type and originates in the milk tubes or ducts.
• Lobular carcinoma starts in the glands, or lobules, that produce milk.
Many breast cancers are sensitive to the hormone estrogen which causes the tumor to grow. They have estrogen receptors on the surface of their cells and are called estrogen receptor positive cancer or ER-positive cancer. Some women have what is called HER2-positive breast cancer. HER2 refers to a gene that helps cells grow, divide, and repair themselves. Women with HER2-positive breast cancer have a more aggressive disease and a higher risk that the disease will return.
Women have increased risk of breast cancer based on the following factors:
• Age. Most breast cancer cases involve women over 50
• Family history. If you have a close relative who has had breast, uterine, ovarian, or colon cancer, you are at a higher risk for breast cancer
• Genes. Gene defects make you more likely to develop breast cancer. The most common gene defects are in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genes normally protect you from cancer, but if a parent passes a defective gene, you will have increased risk.
• Menstrual cycle. Women who started their periods before age 12 or began menopause after age 55 have increased risk.
• Alcohol use. Drinking more than one glass of alcohol a day increases your risk.
• Women who have never had children or who had them after age 30 have increased risk.
• Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT with estrogen for several years have a greater risk than those who have used other methods.
• Radiation. Those who have received radiation therapy in the chest area for cancer have a much increased risk.
If you have one or more of these risks, it is important that you maintain disciplined dietary and exercise lifestyles for cancer prevention. Choose foods and portions that promote a healthy weight. Eat whole grains instead of refined grain products. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Limit processed and red meat. Limit alcohol consumption. Do some cardio-vascular and resistance exercise at least three times per week for 20 to 30 minutes.