Noyes News and Events

October 2, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness

October is breast cancer awareness month and the pink ribbons are flying.  Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer.  The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be close to 252,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and over 63,000 cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS), the earliest form of breast cancer, diagnosed in 2017.  In addition, almost 41,000 women will die from breast cancer this year.  Survival rates, however, are on the rise. Currently, there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.  Understanding the risk factors and receiving screening is the key to survival.  

According to the American Cancer Society, risk factors fall into two major categories:  1) risk factors not related to personal choice (no control) and 2) life-style related risk factors.  

Risk Factors Not Related to Personal Choice (those things we have no control over)

  1. Simply being a woman.  Breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women than in men.  This is most likely due to higher levels of estrogen and progesterone in women.

  2. Growing old.  Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age.  Most breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.

  3. Genetics.  About 5-10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, the direct result of a gene defects inherited from a parent.

  4. Family history of breast cancer.  Have one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer almost doubles a woman’s risk.  Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk 3-fold. Overall, less than 15% of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease.

  5. Personal history of breast cancer.  A woman diagnosed with breast cancer has an increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.

  6. Race and ethnicity.  White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than are African-American women. However, in women under age 45, breast cancer is more common in African American women.

  7. Dense breast tissue.  Women with more glandular and fibrous tissue in their breasts and less fatty tissue are said to have dense breasts.  Women with dense breasts on a mammogram have a breast cancer risk that is 1.5 to 2 times that of women with average breast density.  

  8. Early periods and late menopause.  Women who have had more periods because they started menstruating before age 12 or went through menopause after age 55, have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.

  9. Radiation exposure.  If a woman received radiation treatments to her chest as a child or young adult, her risk of breast cancer is increased.

  10. Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES).  From the 1940s through the early 1970s, some pregnant women were given an estrogen-like drug called DES because it was thought to lower their chances of miscarriage.  These women have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.


Lifestyle-related risk factors

  1. Having children. Women who have never been pregnant or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk overall.  

  2. Birth control.  Women who use birth control pills have a greater risk of breast cancer than women who never used them.  Some studies found that women using birth control shots (Depo-Provera) seem to have an increase in breast cancer risk.

  3. Hormone therapy after menopause.  Studies indicate that using combined hormone therapy (estrogen and progesterone) after menopause increases the risk of getting breast cancer.

  4. Breastfeeding.  Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower the breast cancer risk, especially if it is continued for 1 ½ to 2 years.

  5. Drinking alcohol.  Drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.  The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.  Those who have 2 to 3 drinks daily have about 20% higher risk compared to women who do not drink alcohol.

  6. Being overweight or obese.  Being overweight after menopause increases the breast cancer risk.  Before menopause, ovaries produce the majority of estrogen.  After menopause, most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue.  Higher amounts of fat may lead to elevated estrogen levels and put a woman at greater risk for cancer.

  7. Physical activity.  A Women’s Health Initiative study suggested that as little 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 18%.  Walking 10 hours per week reduced the risk even more.


Besides knowing your personal risk factors, it is also important to be screened for breast cancer.  To screen for breast cancer, health care providers use mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and breast MRIs. While there is not complete consensus in the medical field regarding at what age to start screening, many recommend age 40 including the Mayo Clinic and UR Medicine Noyes Health.  Discuss all your risk factors with your doctor to determine the right screening and age for you.

For more information about breast cancer risks, symptoms, screening, and treatments, connect with the American Cancer Society at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at or the National Cancer Institute at  

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, contact Lorraine at or 585-335-4327.