10 Must-Know Scientific Facts About Breast Cancer

breast cancer supporterBreast cancer is scary stuff. One in EIGHT of us will be diagnosed in our lifetime, and it's the second leading cause of death in women. But no need to freak just yet. Knowledge is power and all that, right?

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Check out these facts about breast cancer. You never know. One could save your life or the life of someone you love.

1. Family matters, but not like you think. Less than 15 percent of women who get breast cancer have a family member who was diagnosed with it. BUT! If you do have a first-degree relative like a sister, mother, or daughter with breast cancer, your risk of having it, too, doubles. Breast cancer, people. It's confusing stuff.

2. A lump isn't the only sign of breast cancer. Other reasons to call your doctor ASAP: a change in the size or shape of your breast; a nipple turned inward; fluid other than breast milk, especially if it's bloody; dimples in your breast that look like the skin of an orange; and scaly, red, or swollen skin on your breast, nipple, or areola.

3. Dense breasts = higher risk of breast cancer. When you have breasts with more tissue than fat, your odds of being diagnosed with breast cancer become six times higher. Ask your doctor about adding an ultrasound or MRI to your screening regimen, or at least switching to a digital mammogram, which allows for a more detailed image of your breasts.

4. Exercise can lower your risk. So can getting to a healthy weight. Just another reason to throw in your sneaks and go for a run -- or even a walk. Three hours of activity a week can lower your odds of getting breast cancer.

5. Breastfeeding offers protection. Nurse your little one for at least six months and your chances of a breast cancer diagnosis drop by 10 percent. The reason? You don't have your period while you're breastfeeding, which drops the amount of estrogen you're exposed to during your lifetime. (Estrogen's been linked to breast cancer.)

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6. When you start and stop your period matters. If you started your period before age 12, your odds of getting breast cancer increase. The same holds true for starting menopause at a later age.

7. Fruits and veggies make a difference. A Harvard study found that women who ate fruits and veggies were less likely to develop an aggressive form of breast cancer. Aim for five servings a day, in other words. (The American Cancer Society also suggests limiting processed foods and red meats.)

8. Binge-drinking's a bad idea. Limiting the alcohol you imbibe can cut your risk for breast cancer. Aim for no more than one drink a day.

9. There's no one-size-fits-all treatment. Just like there are many different kinds of breast cancer, so are there options. A doctor chooses a treatment based on the type of cancer, its stage, its size, and whether it's sensitive to hormones. (There's a lot to consider, in other words -- which is why getting a second opinion, even if you like your doc, is ALWAYS a good idea.)

10. Death rates from breast cancer are on the decline. And have been since about 1990. Experts attribute this to early detection, increased awareness, and improving treatment options.

The battle's not over yet, of course. But we'll take whatever good news we can get.

 

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