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Be aware of breast cancer

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


Pink ribbon for breast cancer awarenessBreast cancer is so prevalent that most people know someone who has had it. In fact, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so here are a few facts, some of which may be surprising.

A family history of breast cancer is considered a risk factor, so if a woman’s mother, sister, aunt or grandmother has had it, she should be more careful about looking for it.


However, having this risk factor does not mean that you will get breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, “only 20-30 percent of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease.” This means that 7 or 8 out of every 10 women who have breast cancer are NOT related to someone who has had it.

As a woman ages, her risk of developing breast cancer increases. “Nearly 8 out of 10 breast cancers occur in women over age 50,” says the American Cancer Society. The risk for a woman over 70 developing the disease in the next year is almost double that for a 50-year-old.

Some risk factors are out of your control, but there are some changes you can make to lower your risk of breast cancer, including maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and avoiding or limiting alcohol intake. Not using hormone therapy after menopause may also help lower your risk.

Regardless of risk factors, early detection is important! All women, starting in their 20’s, should perform a monthly breast self exam to help detect changes in the tissue of the breast that may indicate cancer. For instructions on a thorough method for self examination, a woman can ask her doctor or go to the American Cancer Society’s website at Any changes should be reported promptly to your physician.

Also, for younger women ages 20-39, a breast exam should be done every three years as part of the well-woman medical check-up. For women 40 years old and older, this exam by a doctor or nurse should be completed at least annually.

After age 40, women should also have a yearly mammogram. These should continue, “for as long as they are in good health,” recommends the American Cancer Society.

If a tumor is detected when it is just under one inch in size, there is a 94 percent 5-year survival rate. For a tumor larger than two inches, the rate goes down to 66 percent. Breast cancer doesn’t have to be fatal, and early detection can mean avoiding an extremely difficult medical situation.


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Last Updated 10/05/2015