5 facts for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, so chances are, you know at least one person who has been personally affected by this disease.

But there is hope. When caught in its earliest, localized stages, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%. Advances in early detection and treatment methods have significantly increased breast cancer survival rates in recent years, and there are currently over 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. Getting screened for breast cancer and getting a mammogram are both HSA eligible expenses, so be sure to schedule your appointment.

In addition to getting regular cancer screenings and tests, making sure you’re aware of the facts and statistics surrounding breast cancer in the United States can help you make informed decisions about your health.

Estimates reveal there will be 297,790 new invasive breast cancer cases (in 2023 alone)

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women. Cancer remains among the most pressing women's health issues today, even though total diagnoses have fallen in recent decades. Early detection is pivotal. Cancer can be treatable and survivable (a 5-year relative survival rate of 100 percent), especially if the cancer is discovered in the localized stage (including Stage 0-1).

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force newly recommends a mammogram for average risk women starting at age 40. (They define average risk as people with a family history of breast cancer and people who have other risk factors, such as having dense breasts.)

The updated screening guidelines are well accepted by the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Women with an average risk of breast cancer should start yearly mammograms at age 40. Women with a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer should undergo annual mammograms and be offered yearly supplemental imaging; this screening should be initiated at a risk-based age.

Breast cancer risk is higher in overweight or obese women (after menopause)

Higher insulin levels in the blood can tie into cancer, including breast cancer. Studies examined the link between a person's body mass index (BMI), and found that gaining weight after menopause increases a woman's risk of breast cancer and is a leading risk factor.

Only 5-10 percent of breast cancers are linked to gene mutations

Despite genetic links, only a small percentage of diagnoses are directly tied to genetic abnormalities passed down between successive generations. In the vast majority of cases, breast cancer cases are sporadic, which again highlights the need for early detection and regular screenings.

The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender and age 

Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than it is for women. A woman's risk of developing this type of cancer will increase each decade as she ages. While factors such as diet and activity levels play a role, gender and age are the universal risk factors.

However, those with a high risk of breast cancer should be screened with a breast MRI and a mammogram every year, typically beginning at age 30. This includes people who:

  • Have a personal history of breast cancer.
  • Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (through a genetic test).
  • Have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation and have not had genetic testing themselves.
  • Had radiation therapy to the chest when they were between 10 and 30 years old.
  • Have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have first-degree relatives with any of these syndromes.

Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women and often get deadly cancers at younger ages. New studies have shown that they may want to consider screening earlier than 40.

Breast cancer death rates have dropped steadily in recent decades

Breast cancer death rates have dropped steadily each year since 1989 — with the notable exception of Black women — and medical experts attribute overall positive changes in part to better public education about the disease. In addition, an increase in early detection rates and better treatment methods have helped. Simply put, the public awareness campaign and funds donated during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month have made a real and lasting difference in the fight against the disease.

It’s important to note that breast cancer warning signs and breast cancer symptoms can vary greatly. However, don’t assume that you are cancer free because you do not have the typical symptoms. Some women with breast cancer don’t have symptoms at all. This makes regular breast cancer screenings especially important. Remember, screenings are considered an HSA eligible expense, so make sure to schedule yours.

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