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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer represents one of the more survivable cancers for women who actively participate in early detection. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American women. The NCI (National Cancer Institute) data suggests that 12.8% of women born in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Men can also get breast cancer. Men born in the United States have a 0.13% risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Believe it or not, 2670 new cases of male breast cancer will be identified, and 500 men will die from the disease in the next year! The bottom line is that men and women must stay alert about breast cancer, perform self-examinations and report any abnormal findings to their physician.

Risk Factors:

Breast cancer, like all cancers, can result from environmental and genetic (or hereditary) risk factors. Environmental risk factors include older age, dense breasts, inherited risk of breast cancer, exposure of breast tissue to estrogens, exposure to ionizing radiation, dietary habits, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, and a personal history of breast cancer. While several risk factors have been identified, the actual cause of breast cancer has not been identified. Approximately 5% of new breast cancer cases are linked to hereditary syndromes. There appears to be an increased risk of breast cancer in families with BRCA gene mutations. The risks appear to be higher in men with the inherited BRCA2 gene mutations than the BRCA1 mutations.

The BRCA genes are tumor suppressor genes. They actually work to protect you by preventing uncontrolled cell growth and preventing abnormal cells from becoming cancer cells. We have two copies of the gene, BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you are a BRCA carrier, that means you have a mutation in one of the BRCA genes, which makes the gene behave abnormally. This will increase a person’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.

The incidence (or rate of occurrence) and death rates vary with race and social status. In the US, the incidence of breast cancer in black women is lower, while the mortality rate is higher. The incidence seems to increase in those of higher socioeconomic status, and mortality appears to be tied to lower economic status. Several studies have suggested that black women in the US are much more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Researchers have proposed certain theories to account for this disparity, including poor access to breast cancer screening, poor access to advanced treatment options, and racial differences in the biology of breast cancer in the African American population. Some studies have even suggested that the disparity in breast cancer treatment outcomes may be more secondary to inherent cultural biases than cancer biology.

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