5 Things You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Sep 30, 2013 6:00am

The statistics are startling.

Approximately one  in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer over her lifetime. This year alone, that’s 232,340 women who will learn they have invasive breast cancer. The disease is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among American women, right after lung cancer.

So here are five important things to keep in mind about breast cancer.

#1: Not all breast cancer is created equal

There’s no question that hearing the “c” word can be very frightening. But the reality is that there are a range of differences in types of breast cancer. DCIS, for example, which stands for ductal carcinoma in situ, tends to be a less aggressive form of breast cancer. Conversely, inflammatory breast cancer tends to be more aggressive.

#2: Exercise lowers your risk

We know that exercise is good for us. It’s good for your mind, it’s good for your waistline, and it can even improve your sex life. But women who exercise and have an active lifestyle also reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. It may have something to do with levels of estrogen in the body and body fat percentages. Even walking can be beneficial. One recent study found that women who were active and exercised regularly lowered their risk by as much as 30 percent as compared to sedentary women.

#3: Breastfeeding lowers your risk

Breastfeeding is great for babies. But it’s also good for moms. One study found that women who breastfed their babies were up to 25 percent less likely to develop pre-menopausal breast cancer compared with women who never breastfeed.

#4: Drinking alcohol increases your risk

So here’s the bad news. It really does appear that women who drink alcohol on a regular basis, even moderately, have an increased risk of breast cancer. That’s especially the case for younger women. One study found that women between their first period and their first pregnancy who consumed just on average seven alcoholic drinks per week had an 11 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer. So go easy on those drinks.

#5: Talking with your doctor can save your life

Talking about your breast health with your doctor is an important step in learning about your breast cancer risk, and catching and treating it early if it develops. He or she will be able to provide clinical breast exams, the best advice as to when you should be getting a mammogram and how often, as well as whether you require additional tests. For example, while you’ve probably heard  about ultrasounds and sonograms in connection with pregnancy, they’re also very commonly used in younger women with dense breasts. Combined with a mammogram, an ultrasound can sometimes distinguish between a cyst and a suspicious, possibly cancerous, lesion in these women.

ABC News’ Luis Yordan contributed to this episode.

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