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Posted October 05, 2017 in Breast Cancer Awareness Month

It is October and mixed in with the orange and black clothing and packaging you’ll notice a lot of pink in the crowd too. That’s because October starts Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where we spend 31 days promoting education and resources for women with, or who at risk for, breast cancer. It’s important to promote awareness of this disease, because breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, next to skin cancer, in women. However, death rates for the disease have slowly declined in the past 25 years, which can be attributed to early detection and improved treatments.

What’s My Risk of Breast Cancer?

It can be difficult to determine if you will develop breast cancer in your lifetime, even if you are in a high-risk category. One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of her life. A number of factors can impact your risk of developing breast cancer, including genetics, age, gender, and lifestyle.

Genetics

While about 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women without a family history, your risk doubles if you have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has had breast cancer. Additionally, having the gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 increases your risk by 45 to 65 percent. Women who have breast cancer and BRCA mutations tend to be younger and are also more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

Age

Breast cancer risks increase with age, and the most cases are diagnosed in women over 50 years old. Additional factors that can impact your risk is if you started your menstrual cycle earlier or you go into menopause later. Studies indicate that being exposed to estrogen for longer periods of time can increase the likelihood that you will develop breast cancer.

Gender

Breast cancer disproportionately affects more women than men. A man’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is .1 percent, compared to a woman’s 12 percent risk.

Lifestyle

Some lifestyle factors can increase your breast cancer risk, including being overweight, long term use of hormone replacement therapies, having children after 30 years of age, or drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day. These lifestyle factors are not the largest indicators of your risk and typically work in conjunction with other risk factors.

Staying Educated About Your Health  

If you are at an increased danger of developing breast cancer, it is important that you monitor your breast health. Young women can perform routine, at-home breast exams. If you are over 50 years of age or have a strong family history of breast cancer, you may consider yearly mammograms to detect cancerous tissue in the breasts. Early detection is key to long-term survival of breast cancer, and staying educated about your health will help you catch any issues early in the process.

**Statistics are provided by breastcancer.org and the Susan G Komen foundation.