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As you probably know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I think we should stop right here and say “Thank You” to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Huge strives have been taken in the fight against breast cancer, because of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Often referred to as simply Komen, it is the most widely known, largest and best-funded breast cancer organization in the US.

Since its inception in 1982, Komen has invested nearly $2 billion for breast cancer research, education, advocacy, health services and social support programs in the U.S., and through partnerships in more than 50 countries. Today, Komen has more than 100,000 volunteers working in a network of 124 affiliates worldwide. I would encourage you to take part in Race for the Cure or any other Susan G. Komen event in your local area.

In 1940, the lifetime risk of a woman developing breast cancer was 5%, or one in 20. The American Cancer Society estimates that risk being 13% in 2011, or almost one in eight. In many cases, it’s not known why a woman gets breast cancer. In fact, 75% of all women with breast cancer have no known risk factors. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, preceded only by lung cancer. This year 180,000 new breast cancer cases will be diagnosed. The good news is the death rates from breast cancer continue to decline due to: increased awareness, early diagnosis and Susan G. Komen Foundation.

So, let’s talk about your risk factors.

What is the biggest risk factor for the development of breast cancer? You guessed it! Being Female and having Tata’s!! There I said it. You have breast, and that is the number 1 risk factor for breast cancer. But, did you know that men can get breast cancer as well? While it is a rare form of breast cancer, it can occur. If your father or grandfather had breast cancer, you are chances are greater than if your mother or grandmother had breast cancer.

A woman with a history of cancer in one breast has a 3- to 4-fold increased risk of developing a new breast cancer, unrelated to the first one, in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different than a recurrence of the previous breast cancer.

Other Breast Cancer Risk Factors:

Age: About 77% of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 50, and almost half are age 65 and older. Consider this: In women 40 to 49 years of age, there is a one in 68 risk of developing breast cancer. In the 50 to 59 age group, that risk increases to one in 37.

Direct Family History: Having a mother, sister, or daughter (“first degree” relative) who has breast cancer puts you at higher risk for the disease. The risk is even greater if your relative developed breast cancer before menopause and had cancer in both breasts. Having one first-degree relative with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk, and having two first-degree relatives increases her risk 5-fold.

Genetics: Carriers of alterations in either of two familial breast cancer genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2 are at higher risk. Women with an inherited alteration in either of these genes have up to an 80% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. These genes are often seen in families with breast cancer diagnosed at earlier ages – those diagnosed in their 20’s and 30’s.

Previous Breast Lesion: A previous breast biopsy result of atypical hyperplasia (lobular or ductal) increases a woman’s breast cancer risk by four to five times.

Early Age of Menstruation and Late Menopause: There is some research available that shows a link. The link is thought to be the longer time that a female is exposed to estrogen over their life. Those that begin menstruating early are exposed earlier, and those that are late entering menopause are exposed longer.

Women Never Being Pregnant: Again the link is your body’s exposure to estrogen

Oral Contraception and Hormone Replacement Therapy: While believe to be slight, there is a link.

Weight: Being overweight (especially in the waist), with excess caloric and fat intake, increases your risk, especially after menopause.

Alcohol Consumption: Use of alcohol is linked to increased risk of developing breast cancer. Compared with nondrinkers, women who consume one alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk, and those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily, have about 1.5 times the risk of women who drink no alcohol.

Race: Caucasian women are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women. The exception to this is African-American women are more likely to have breast cancer than Caucasians under the age of 40.

Heritage: Female descendants of Eastern and Central European Jews (Ashkenazi) are at increased risk.

Family Cancer History: A family history of cancer of the ovaries, cervix, uterus, or colon increases your risk.

So, now you know your risk factors. Over the next few weeks, we will be talking about types of breast cancer, treatment options, and how to do a GOOD monthly self-breast exam.

I know of many cancer survivors – breast cancer is truly becoming one of the best treated cancers. I would love for you to share your stories!