Everything You Need to Know About Breast Cancer


Breast cancer is the second-most common form of cancer that women are likely to face (after skin cancer). But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many vulnerable individuals may have decided to avoid the regular breast cancer screenings that continue to save lives. With that in mind, let’s look at everything you should know about breast cancer, including who might be at risk, how to screen for it, and how you might prevent it.

Breast cancer statistics and recent trends.

One in eight women are likely to face a breast cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives. In 2021, it is estimated that 30% of cancer diagnoses will be for breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. On the plus side, 63% of cancer diagnoses will occur in what’s called the “localized” stage, meaning the cancer has not spread from the breast tissue where it originated. Additionally, diagnoses that occur at this stage have a 99% survival rate.

Recent trends have been positive when it comes to diagnoses and outcomes. Since 1990, death rates from breast cancer have been on the decline, as have breast cancer incidence rates among women 50 and older. 

It bears mentioning that men are also at risk for developing breast cancer: one out of 100 breast cancer diagnoses are in men, according to the CDC.

Who might be at risk.

Like all forms of cancer, breast cancer develops due to damaged DNA, which may occur because of genetics or environmental factors, or some combination of the two. Most individuals who’ve been diagnosed will never know what caused their condition.

As far as who might develop breast cancer, certain genetic traits place women at a higher risk. For instance, those who experienced early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after 55); those with a relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50; or, those with a relative who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, are at a “high risk.” 

However, three out of every four women who develop breast cancer are *not* in a high-risk category, and many women in the “high risk” category will never develop cancer, so it is still recommended to undergo regular screenings even if you’re not considered a “high risk” individual.

How to prevent, and screen for, breast cancer.

According to The American Cancer Society, there are ways you can lower your risk of breast cancer, including:

  • Get to, and stay at, a healthy weight: Increased body weight, and weight gain particularly after menopause, are linked with higher incidences of breast cancer
  • Get consistent physical activity: The American Cancer Society recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderately intense, or 75-150 minutes of vigorously intense, physical activity, over the course of a week. “Moderate” activity is defined as that which raises your heart rate, i.e. during a brisk walk; “vigorous” is defined as that which causes sweating and a fast-beating heart rate
  • Limit alcohol use, or avoid it altogether: The link between alcohol and cancer is well-established. The American Cancer Society says while one drink maximum per day is not considered excessive, it is best to eliminate alcohol use altogether.
  • Avoid hormonal therapies after menopause: For decades, women have been using hormonal therapies to soften the health effects of menopause. However, recent research has demonstrated a link between these therapies and cancer diagnoses, including breast cancer. Talk to a health professional about non-hormonal options if you’re using hormonal therapies.
  • Screen (and get screened) regularly: Both attentive self-exams to monitor for changes, and scheduling an annual screening with your health provider (especially after age 40), can help to catch changes in your breast tissue. For guidance on how to perform a self-exam, check out this video from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

We hope this information has helped familiarize you with the statistics and prevention tactics around breast cancer. As always, forewarned is forearmed, so put these recommendations to use and join the millions of women (and men) who have done their part to prevent breast cancer or detect it early.