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Breast cancer in numbers: Get the facts

Vicki Clinebell majored in journalism at the University of Colorado, and headed an advertising agency before beginning a long career in broadcasting, spanning production and copywriting to sales and management for an ABC affiliate statio...

Learn how to lower breast cancer risks

Every woman is vulnerable to breast cancer, but knowing the facts helps us take steps to reduce our risk factors.

Woman getting mammogram

Breast cancer is a disease that doesn't discriminate: it is the most common type of cancer among women, no matter the race, age or ethnicity. Men can get breast cancer, too. For males, it can happen at any age, although the most common diagnosis is among men 60 to 70 years old. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 210,203 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,589 women died from the disease.

Understanding the threat

About one in eight women in the United States — just under 12 percent — will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. For men the risk is slightly lower. A man's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is one in 11. Just under 30 percent of all cancers in women are breast cancer.

Researchers have found several risk factors that may increase chances of getting breast cancer. These include starting your menstrual period at a young age and starting menopause at a later age, being older at the birth of a first child or never giving birth, not breastfeeding, being overweight (particularly after menopause), long-term use of hormone replacement therapy, drinking alcohol at the rate of more than an average of one drink per day and not getting regular exercise.

A woman's risk for breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative — a mother, a sister or a daughter — who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. About 15 percent of women who get breast cancer also have a family member who has been diagnosed with the disease. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations inherited from parents. Women who carry these mutations have up to an 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetime.

White women have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than African-American women, but in women under the age of 45, breast cancer has been more common among the African-American group. And overall, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer. For other ethnicities, Asian, Hispanic and Native American women seem to have a lower risk of developing and dying from breast cancer. Considering the general risk factors, this may be reflective of lifestyle.

Hope and health

Nearly 40,000 women died of breast cancer last year, but death rates have been decreasing since 1990. This has been especially true for women under 50 years old. This is mainly the result of the advances in the treatment of breast cancer, earlier detection due to screenings and increased awareness of risk factors. Screenings and early detection of breast cancer save lives.

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