The Pink Ribbon Month: Breast Cancer Awareness

A very special woman I know is in her mid-late thirties and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. For this young mother of three, this is too young to happen and is a red flag in the cancer genetic community. Luckily, my young friend detected the mass very early through a breast self-exam (BSE) and is currently receiving treatment. Her prospects are very bright.

Most cancers (about 70%) are sporadic or by chance in their occurrence. It is only 5-10% of breast cancer that is associated with inherited mutations in the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. All cancers are genetic, however in that they involve changes or mutations in the genes. One of the key indicators of the inherited mutation is early age of onset, considered to be under age 50.

For the general population, the causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. We do know that there are specific factors that may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Being a female is the number 1 factor followed by age. The older we get, the greater is our risk of developing breast cancer. For example a woman of 30 has a risk of 1 in 251 but at age 50 the risk increases to 1 in 36. Other factors that may increase the risk of breast cancer include:

 

  • Having a personal history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Having a previous biopsy showing hyperplasia or carcinoma in situ
  • Having your first menstrual period before the age of 12
  • Starting menopause after age 55
  • Having an inherited mutation in the BRCA 1 or 2 genes
  • Drinking more than one alcoholic drink each day
  • Taking birth control pills for more than 5 years
  • Having your first child after age 30 or never having children
  • Currently or recently using combined estrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

 

What measures can be followed to prevent or reduce breast cancer risks? Consistent, routine screening including monthly BSE, mammograms (annually if 40 or older), and clinical breast exam by a healthcare provider. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, a positive emotional attitude, and being a non-smoker are actions that can be controlled and all serve to reduce disease risks. Today, more people are surviving this disease and that is indeed good.