Breast cancer continues to affect hundreds of thousands of women in the United States each year. Even though great strides have been made in detecting and treating this disease, it still has a profound impact on women (and men) in our communities.
In 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 64,640 new cases of breast cancer in situ, or an early stage cancer, were diagnosed.
Approximately 40,000 women died from breast cancer in 2013, making brea st cancer the second most deadly cancer for women just behind lung cancer.
Even though these statistics may seem bleak, there are several things any woman can do to take charge of this disease. First of all, let us look at who gets breast cancer:
- Sex: Women (even though men are prone to breast cancer too)
- Age: Older women (the average age of a woman getting breast cancer is 61-years-old)
- Race/Ethnicity: Even though non-Hispanic white women are diagnosed at a greater rate than
African American women, African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer. African American women also have a lower rate of ER+, one of the three types of breast cancer a woman can have, and a higher rate of ER- breast cancer, two factors that affect treatment options negatively. ER+ cancers are driven by hormones and thus women who have ER+ cancers have a wider range of treatments available, such as agents that block these hormones.
Now let us examine some breast cancer risk factors:
- Family history of breast cancer: Women with a first degree relative with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease
- Genetic predisposition: 5-10% of breast cancer results from genetic mutations called BRCA1 and BRCA2 – these mutations can be tested for with a simple blood test under the guidance of a genetic counselor or medical doctor trained in genetics
- Personal history of breast cancer: Women with a history of breast cancer have a higher chance of developing a second breast cancer
- Benign breast disease
- Breast density: Women with highly dense breast tissue have a greater risk for developing breast cancer
Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, breastfeeding and bone mineral density: All of these factors have to do with hormone exposure and help your clinician assess your overall risk of breast cancer
Lifestyle related risk factors:
- Postmenopausal hormone use
- Obesity and weight gain
- Lack of physical activity
- Increased alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
- Oral contraceptive use
The staff at Whittier is well trained and dedicated to helping women in our communities get the best care in health screening, early detection and treatment for breast cancer. We can help you assess your risk factors and modify your lifestyle-related risk factors as well.
Whittier features a Mammography Suite in partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute so that women can get their mammograms right on site!
Should a cancer diagnosis occur, we have a unique partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where cancer patients can be seen right here at Whittier and receive a full assessment and treatment plan from trusted providers. We also have a geneticist who comes to Whittier and can help assess women who have a strong family history of breast cancer.
The most important message for all women is to take their breast health into their own hands and to make sure to follow these screening and early detection guidelines:
- Monthly self-breast exams
- Yearly breast exams by a medical provider
- Mammograms yearly after the age of 40-years-old
- Report any and all changes in your breasts immediately to your doctor or nurse
For more information regarding Dana-Farber Community Cancer Care at Whittier Street Health Center, please contact us at (617) 632-5335 or (617) 989-3267. To schedule an appointment for a mammography at Whittier Street Health Center, please call our office at (617) 989-3200 or (617) 989-3260.