Is Breast Cancer an Epidemic?
The Epidemic and NED:
Is there a breast cancer epidemic? How many women are presently being treated for breast cancer and how many are living with NED?
I recently hosted a bridal shower for my lovely daughter-in-law to be. There were approximately 48 people at the party, and it was a gathering of young adults, parents and grand-parents. We had two tables of eight set up with chairs for the “older” generation to relax and talk, and additional high-top tables were scattered around the room so the younger crowd could mingle. There were nine of us sitting at one table ranging in age from 60 – 85. I looked around the table and suddenly realized that out of the nine women seated at the table, seven of us were breast cancer survivors!
On the Fitzgerald side of the family, there are three sisters-in-laws including myself. All three of us have had breast cancer. A very dear friend of mine who was at the table was also a survivor. On the bride’s side of the family, her Mom was recently diagnosed and two of her best friends who were at the party were also survivors. Present statistics predict one in eight women will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, so our group seemed an anomaly. Or were we?
Perhaps our numbers were a microcosm of the breast cancer epidemic. Although in my youth, I knew no one with the disease; here in one small gathering, were seven people who had suffered this horrible disease.
What about younger women? During my tenure as a fifth-grade teacher, a frequent topic in the teacher’s room was how the 4th and 5th grade girls were already reaching puberty. Although childhood obesity could contribute to early onset, this clearly was not the only factor. Most of our students were from upper middle-class families and were active in sports and after school activities and obesity was not the norm. However, busy lifestyles encouraged fast food diets and convenience foods, literally the SAD (Standard American Diet). By definition, a diet “rich in red meat, dairy products, processed and artificially sweetened foods, and salt, with minimal intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, and whole grains.” Exposure to chemicals in our environment and food supply is also of concern.
Research studies have concluded that girls who reach puberty early have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Consequently, as the age of puberty’s onset among U.S. girls continues to drop, researchers are trying to figure out why—and how this growing risk factor might be avoided.
Although our “microcosm” group discussed above was composed of women who were diagnosed post menopause, the age at diagnosis in younger women is decreasing. Unfortunately, when younger women are diagnosed they often experience the more aggressive form of the disease.
Ways to Reduce Exposure:
A chart from the site TheTruthAboutCancer lists factors to consider for reducing exposure to contributing environmental factors:
Breast Cancer Statistics:
What exactly are the facts regarding breast cancer statistics? Breastcancer.org, provides the following summary:
About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12.4%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
In 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
About 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2018. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
Breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000, after increasing for the previous two decades. They dropped by 7% from 2002 to 2003 alone. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk.
About 40,920 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.
For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.
Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2017, it’s estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.
In women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African-American women than white women. Overall, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer. For Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women, the risk of developing and dying from breast cancer is lower.
As of January 2018, there are more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.
A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.
About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations (abnormal changes) inherited from one’s mother or father. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common. On average, women with a BRCA1 mutation have a 55-65% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. For women with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk is 45%. Breast cancer that is positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations tends to develop more often in younger women. An increased ovarian cancer risk is also associated with these genetic mutations. In men, BRCA2 mutations are associated with a lifetime breast cancer risk of about 6.8%; BRCA1 mutations are a less frequent cause of breast cancer in men.
About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.
The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older).
In summary, no age group is exempt from the possibility of this disease. To stop the epidemic, more research and education is needed to identify diet and lifestyle factors that increase risk. Reducing exposure to contributing factors is our only defense at present, so please share this information with your friends and family. Check out our other blogs on diet and lifestyle. Be well!