Understanding your risks: Doctors share risk factors, prevention as breast cancer surpasses lung cancer in new cases

Health

INDIANAPOLIS — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Recent statistics from the International Agency for Research on Cancer show as of 2020, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, surpassing lung cancer for the first time. The same report showed breast cancer made for 2.3 million diagnosed cases last year.

IARC statistics also show it now accounts for 11.7% of all new cancer cases in men and women.

While experts are encouraged by the strides made in early detection and screenings, Dr. Meghan Beer, breast surgery fellow at Indiana University IU Health, says the first step is truly understanding your risks.

“A lot of patients falsely assume that because they don’t have a family history of breast cancer that they’re not at any increased risk. When, in all actuality, about only 15 percent or so of breast cancers are actually associated with a family history,” Beer said.

According to the CDC, some risk factors include age, genetic mutations, reproductive history, having dense breasts, lack of physical activity, alcohol intake and a series of other elements.

“I feel like women are really empowered to kind of finding out more about their personal risks,” Beer said. “We actually have a high risk breast clinic at IU, and so these are patients that have been told that they are potentially at high risk. So them taking that initiative, to be seen in our clinic, to really find out what measures they can take, should they be doing increased surveillance, should they be doing any of the chemo-preventative medications that we sometimes prescribe for these patients. That’s really encouraging.”

Medical professionals continue to stress the importance of early screenings and mammograms. The American Cancer Society recommends women, starting at 40, consider yearly mammograms. If you’re considered high risk, then it’s recommended starting as early as 30.

If caught early enough, Beer says it could ultimately save lives.

“A lot of times these patients simply don’t even require chemotherapy at that point, and really don’t require all of those really scary bad things that we associate with breast cancer,” she said. “In addition, our earlier screening and detection allows us to find those precancerous lesions. So we’re really able to kind of get ahead and improve a patient’s risk of actually getting breast cancer.”

In the U.S., Susan G. Komen reports for every eight women, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Meanwhile, it’s also possible for men to be diagnosed.

According to the CDC, about one in every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. is found in a man.

“Typically with men, it is diagnosed at a later stage just because we’re not screening men with mammograms,” said Beer, “but, stage for stage, luckily, the prognosis remains the same between men and women.”

Because of early detection and screenings, Beer says they haven’t seen many patients with breast cancer symptoms. However, some symptoms, in both men and women, can include lumps or swelling in the breast or underarm, skin irritation or pain in the breast or nipple.

Beer recommends people continue to educate themselves on the risks and measures they can take to address them. The hope is with more awareness, fewer cases of true breast cancers will be detected in the future.

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