United In The Fight Against Breast Cancer: Knowledge Is Power + An Essential Tool

A woman whose mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease, particularly if more than one first-degree relative has been affected. – WebMD Breast Cancer Basics

This statistic is talking about my mother. It is saying that my mother is two to three times more likely because my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. This statistic also means I am two to three times more likely, if my mother is diagnosed in the years to come.

What does this statistic mean to you?

Due to my grandmother’s diligence in getting her mammograms every single year the cancer was caught at the very beginning, during Stage 1. The even better news is that today she is healthy and in remission.

Personalizing this statistic is crucial to instituting the beginning of a movement- a movement where we know the facts so that we may respond from a place of understanding, rather than fear, to protect ourselves and actively unite in the fight against breast cancer.

This disease touches every woman in some way. It is a disease that glues us together as mothers and daughters and sisters and wives and best friends and as women, and offers us the opportunity for empowerment. It is a disease that encourages us to seek out education, cries out for better understanding, and requires us to research.

  • 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • 30% of women who develop breast cancer have a family history of the disease, meaning they are genetically predisposed. The remaining majority of women, a whopping 70% who are diagnosed with the disease, have no known family history. This is referred to as “sporadic occurrence”.

Given these solemn statistics, what can we do? What can we do for ourselves as potential patients as well as supporters to the most important people in our life?

The answer is simple: we can educate ourselves, become advocates in order to raise awareness, and we can enable ourselves and our loved ones to act proactively and intelligently should they be faced with a diagnosis.

Be Informed: What You Need To Know About Breast Cancer

Risk increases with age and age is also the biggest risk factor. Two-thirds of women who have breast cancer are over the age of fifty. The majority of the remaining third are women between the ages of 39 and 49. Women over 50 are more likely to get breast cancer, and African-American women are more likely than Caucasians to get breast cancer before menopause.

Let’s dive more deeply into the genetics of it all to understand familial breast cancer. Familial breast cancer occurs in people with one or more family members affected by breast, ovarian, or a related cancer such as primary peritoneal cancer. Two genes have been identified as high risk, meaning they are more susceptible to mutations which can lead to the development of breast cancer. These genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. According to WebMD, approximately one woman in 200 carries one of these genes. A woman who has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene carries a greater predisposition to breast cancer and if a woman possesses these genes her lifetime risk for developing breast cancer is 56%-85%.

The PTEN gene, the ATM gene, the TP53 gene, and the CHEK2 gene have also been identified as genes which increase a woman’s risk. However, these genes carry a lower risk factor for breast cancer development than the BRCA genes.

The first step is becoming aware of your family history and the second step is to accurately asses your risk. There are screening guidelines and  prevention plans available.

Use These Tools

If you are under the age of 35 you can use the Hall Detailed Breast Risk Calculator to asses your risk. If you or your loved one are over the age of 35, you can use the Gail Breast Cancer Assessment Tool which was developed by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and is the most widely-used tool for estimating a woman’s five-year and lifetime risk of developing invasive breast cancer.

5 Things You Can Do Daily To Lower Your Risk

  1. Maintain A Healthy Weight. Obesity affects estrogen metabolism in women. What does this even mean? Fat cells in your body aren’t just sitting still- they have the capability to pump out estrogen. The more fat cells you have the more estrogen will be produced as a result. The more estrogen you have coursing through your body, the higher your risk to develop breast cancer. Additionally, being overweight makes your body an ideal host for cancer progression once a malignancy occurs.
  2. Eat Healthier. Foods that may increase your risk for breast cancer include red meat, sugar, and high-fat dairy. Foods that may decrease your risk are red-orange produce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beans, lentils, fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, tofu, and soy milk.
  3. Limit Your Drinking. Regular consumption of alcohol, especially more than one drink daily, increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Need a number to put it in perspective? According to Bright Pink, “research shows a 10% increase in breast cancer risk for every 10g of alcohol- that’s one standard drink- consumed on average each day.”
  4. Exercise. The more exercise, the better, as it appears that exercise is dose-dependent when it comes to decreasing risk.
  5. Lower Your Daily Calories From Fat. Researchers have found that lowering you daily calories from fat, to less than 20-30%, may help decrease a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer.

Join the movement of women supporting women in the fight against breast cancer, and start crucial conversations with family members and your doctor today. Ask questions. Give voice to your fears. Learn all you can so that you can make informed choices and maybe one day provide support to a loved one experiencing this disease.

Have you or a someone you know been a part of this fight? I would love to hear your story. Tweet to me @sncueto or @mscareergirl!

Sarah Cueto

Sarah earned her B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior from UC Davis. She is a resident of sunny San Diego, CA, and is currently working in a Sales & Marketing capacity within the biotech industry. She is focused on her blossoming career, developing her identity as a young professional, and is an avid blogger. Sarah writes regularly about her experiences as a twenty-something woman trying to figure it all out, and in the name of twenty-somethings everywhere, on her blog Twenty-Everything.

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