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Chuck, with October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and pink ribbons everywhere, I was hoping you’d say something about it, especially because men don’t realize they can get it, too. – Cindy H. in Minneapolis
According to the American Cancer Society, except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the No. 1 cancer among American women, with roughly one in eight of them developing it in their lifetime.
In 2013 alone, the ACS projects the following:
- About 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed.
- About 64,640 new cases of noninvasive breast cancer will be diagnosed.
- About 39,620 women will die from breast cancer. (One in 36 women who develop breast cancer will die from it.)
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: Since 2000, female breast cancer incidence has been decreasing, and the death rate from breast cancer has been declining since about 1989, according to the ACS. Today there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors.
The reasons for the decrease in cancer incidence are increased awareness, earlier detection, improved treatment and the drop in use of hormone therapy after menopause.
There are some myths about breast cancer that need to be made known, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website. Remember that these are myths:
- “Finding a lump in your breast means you have breast cancer.” In reality, a small percentage of breast lumps are cancerous. Nevertheless, every one needs to be taken seriously, so make sure you tell your physician about it.
- “Men do not get breast cancer; it affects women only.” Actually, each year, roughly 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer, and several hundred die from it.
- “A mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread.” According to the National Cancer Institute, “the benefits of mammography … nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure. … Mammograms require very small doses of radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is extremely low.”
- “If you have a family history of breast cancer, you are likely to develop breast cancer, too.” Though a greater risk is associated with a family history, only about 10 percent of those who develop breast cancer have a family history of it.
- “Breast cancer is contagious.” No, it can’t be transferred from human to human.
- “If the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2 is detected in your DNA, you will definitely develop breast cancer.” According to the National Cancer Institute, “not every woman in such families carries a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, and not every cancer in such families is linked to a harmful mutation in one of these genes. Furthermore, not every woman who has a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast and/or ovarian cancer.” But “a woman who has inherited a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is about five times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman who does not have such a mutation.”
- “Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer.” A few recent studies have theorized that aluminum-based antiperspirants increase the risk for breast cancer, but Ted Gansler, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society, told WebMD the evidence isn’t convincing.
A must-read is the online article, “7 Incredible Breast Cancer Breakthroughs,” by prolific health writer Lisa Collier Cool. In it, she discusses a pill to prevent breast cancer, the first drug for early stage breast cancer, 3-D mammograms, accurate breast cancer diagnosis without surgery, a high-tech gene test to predict risk of recurrence, a vaccine against breast cancer and new weapons against triple-negative breast cancer. Check it out.
Lastly, one more ray of hope:
Internist Anne McTiernan, a researcher with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, recently told USA Today that “about 25 percent of all breast cancer cases in women of all ages could be avoided by maintaining a healthy body weight and doing regular physical activity.”
The American Cancer Society concurs that “both increased body weight and weight gain as an adult are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause. … Even low levels of alcohol intake have been linked with an increase in risk.”
On the other side of the coin, studies back up McTiernan’s claim that moderate to vigorous physical activity lowers the risk of breast cancer. A diet low in saturated fats and rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry and low-fat dairy products also helps.
The ACS offers this final bit of encouragement: “More than half of all cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy choices like not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, eating right, keeping active and getting recommended screening tests.”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.