5 things you may not know about breast cancer

5 things you may not know about breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women after cancers of the skin, according to the American Cancer Society. But the well-known disease certainly has some little-known characteristics.

  • Most breast cancer develops without a family history. Only a small fraction of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary (5-10 percent). 80 percent of women diagnosed have no family history of the disease. Still, your risk is heightened if you have a family member who has or has had breast cancer, and it is nearly doubled if you have a mother, sister, daughter, etc. with breast cancer. “Screening for breast cancer is important even in the absence of a family history,” says Dr. Mauna Pandya, an oncologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.
  • Men can be diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease does not discriminate. The American Cancer Society reports breast cancer is 100 times less common in men than among women, but cases do still occur. A male’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is one in 1,000. And the first fact remains true for men—risk is elevated when there is a history of breast cancer in the family. “Genetic counseling should be offered to all men diagnosed with breast cancer,” Dr. Pandya says. The Cancer Risk Assessment Program at Advocate Christ Medical Center offers genetic consultation and testing for individuals concerned about their personal and family history of cancer.
  • White women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but African American women are more likely to die from the disease. Between 2008-2012, 128,100 non-Hispanic white women and 124,300 non-Hispanic black women were diagnosed with breast cancer. In that same time period, 21,900 non-Hispanic white women died from the disease, while 31,000 non-Hispanic black women died. Dr. Pandya says there are several reasons for this. “Socioeconomic factors as well as biology of the cancer itself are at play. African American (and Hispanic) women had decreased access to screening and increased delays in follow-up, both of which impact mortality. Also, African American women are more likely to have aggressive tumor biology (a higher incidence of triple negative cancers) that may be more advanced at the time of diagnosis,” she says.
  • Not all breast cancers are created equal. Breast cancer can begin in different areas of the breast and comes in multiple forms:
    • Invasive: Has the potential to spread to other parts of the body via lymph nodes and the bloodstream
    • Non-invasive or carcinoma in situ (ductal carcinoma in situ or lobular carcinoma in situ): Does not spread beyond the breast
    • Recurrent: Comes back after treatment
    • Metastatic: Has spread to other parts of the body
  • Damaged/malfunctioning genes are at play. During our lifetime, genes can change and mutate or become damaged from our environment. These alterations can potentially lead to cancer. Some reasons genes may become altered include aging, a lack of exercise, having dense breast tissue, being overweight and more.

Remember—the best way to fight breast cancer is to catch it early. To schedule your mammogram today, call 1.800.3.ADVOCATE or request an appointment online.

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One Comment

  1. Michael J. Allen November 3, 2016 at 10:08 am · Reply

    Given that African Americans make up only about 10-11% of the American population and that the overall number of diagnosed cases of breast cancer in African American women and in white women is very early the same (124,300 vs 128,100) the statement, “White women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer…”, is somewhat misleading. It is important that readers understand that the rate of occurrence of breast cancer in African American women is astronomical compared to white women, and the rate of mortality is even worse.

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Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks and playing with her cats.

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