As Breast Cancer Awareness Month ends, it is a prime time to remember that becoming better educated about the disease should not end. Early detection is critical. According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year relative survival rate for localized breast cancer is 90%. This means that when cancer has not spread outside the breast, 90 out of 100 women are alive 5 years after they have been diagnosed with breast cancer that has not spread outside of the breasts. The survival statistics provided relies on information provided from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database. The numbers do not take every factor into account. It is also important to note that survival rates for women who were diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer and inflammatory breast cancer differ from what is cited above.
Dr. Ken Lin Tai, Director and Medical Director of the Center for Cancer Prevention and Control, Maryland Department of Health, helped to sort out more fact from fiction about breast cancer, in part two of a two-part series.
Q: Does a woman’s risk of breast cancer increase if a mother, aunt, sister, or close family member was diagnosed with it?
A: A woman’s risk of breast cancer increases if she has a mother, sister, or daughter, or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. In some cases, a family history of breast cancer is linked to the inheritance of an abnormal gene that is associated with breast cancer, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer.
Q: What is one major myth about breast cancer that should be dispelled?
A: One major myth is that a woman will not develop breast cancer unless she has a family history of breast cancer. The truth is most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Hence, it is important that all women get screened for breast cancer regularly.
Q: Are all lumps in the breasts cancerous? Why do they sometimes appear?
A: Not all lumps in the breast are cancer. There are other breast conditions that can cause lumps, such as cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs. However, the only way to tell if the lump is not due to cancer is to have a healthcare provider check it out.
Q: Does taking birth control pills contribute to a woman’s future or current risk of breast cancer?
A: The National Cancer Institute has information on this topic. Women should talk to their healthcare providers about the benefits and risks associated with the use of birth control pills.
Q: Can any preventative measures be taken to reduce the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer? If so, please share a few.
A: There are things that women can do to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer, such as being physically active; maintaining a healthy weight; limiting the amount of alcohol consumed; and breastfeeding. If a woman is taking or considering taking hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, she should speak to her healthcare provider about the benefits and risks and find out if it’s right for her. Also, if there is a family history of breast cancer or BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene changes, a woman should talk to her healthcare provider about other ways to lower her risk of breast cancer.
Q: Is it true that chemicals or deodorant from the environment can contribute to breast cancer?
A: The American Cancer Society has information on this topic. As for chemicals and other environmental exposures, their role in contributing to breast cancer risk is an area that is being actively researched. For example, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have been collaborating on the impact of the environment on breast cancer risk. One should note that studies of environmental factors and breast cancer can be challenging, due to factors such as the nature of environmental exposures (e.g., variability of exposure).
Q: Is it true that the risk of breast cancer increases with age?
A: The risk for breast cancer increases with age, with most breast cancers diagnosed in women ages 50 and older.
The Center for Cancer Prevention and Control, Maryland Department of Health’s mission is to reduce the burden of cancer in the state, according to Dr. Ken Lin Tai’s interview with Dr. David Doman. Watch Housecall via https://health.maryland.gov/phpa/cancer/Pages/faq_combined.aspx to learn more about cancer trends in Maryland. Visit https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection.html to learn more about breast cancer.