Breast Cancer Awareness: Risk Factors, Stats, and Screenings


Cancer of the breast is a concerning medical problem that impacts the lives of a significant number of people in the U.S. every year. Given that October is the official Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now is a great time to become more educated about the risk factors surrounding this life-altering condition and learn why receiving routine breast cancer screenings is so essential for early diagnosis.

Breast cancer, like all forms of cancer, develops when clusters of cells begin dividing randomly and exceedingly, rather than undergoing their usual life cycles and routines. Most often, breast cancer originates in the milk-generating lobules when DNA in these cells starts to become modified. In instances where mutated cells develop at a faster rate than the body can eliminate them, a tumor develops.

Growths or tumors in the breast can form in many parts of milk-secreting tissues, as well as in the fatty breast tissue surrounding and protecting the milk-producing structures of the breast. Although rare, cancer of the breast can even spread to distant regions around the body, including the gastrointestinal (GI) system. When this occurs, the gastroenterologists at GastroArkansas work closely with other physicians and specialists in Little Rock, AR to handle any metastatic GI concerns. Getting an early breast cancer diagnosis is central to safeguarding your general health.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Cancer of the breast is one of the most widespread types of cancer affecting women, as one out of every eight women will develop the condition at some point in their lives. It is estimated that more than 280,000 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis throughout 2021, and approximately 50,000 women will be diagnosed with noninvasive carcinoma in situ breast cancer.

The majority of women who develop cancer of the breast are over the age of 55, but breast cancer is still among the chief causes of mortality for women aged 35 – 55. Non-Hispanic white women and non-Hispanic African American women have the highest risk for cancer of the breast, but African American women and Latina women have the highest risk of dying from the condition.

Genetics can also elevate the risk of developing breast cancer. Patients with relatives who have had cancer of the breast are more apt to get the disease over the course of their lives. While being female, of older age, or having a family history cannot be changed, there are many things you can do to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Various other factors that may increase the chance of developing breast cancer include:

  • Breastfeeding for less than a year

  • Inadequate amounts of vitamin D

  • Smoking

  • Taking hormones, such as chemical contraceptives

  • Alcohol use

  • Pregnancy after age 30

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

  • Lack of exercise

  • Poor diet

  • Being overweight

  • Radiation therapy before age 30

Making changes to your lifestyle while receiving regular screenings can help lessen your risk of developing breast cancer, especially if any of the factors listed above apply to you.

Understanding the various breast cancer types

Cancer of the breast can be diagnosed as either malignant (invasive) or noninvasive carcinoma in situ. Noninvasive cancers are aggregations of cells that essentially grow in one place, splitting irregularly but not becoming altered beyond their principal role in other ways. These groups of cells can often be taken out surgically and have a lower probability of reforming.

Invasive types of cancers are more injurious because they extend strings of cells into the nearby area, occasionally even breaking off portions of themselves and moving to other tissues throughout the body. These growths may additionally generate and discharge destructive hormones and other substances that perilously impact an individual's health.

The general forms of breast cancer include:

  • Paget disease of the nipple: This is cancer that starts in the areola or nipple.

  • Angiosarcoma: This rare form of carcinoma begins in lymph vessels, the skin, or blood vessels.

  • Phyllodes tumors: These are non-malignant tumors that start in connective tissue fibers.

  • Ductal carcinoma: This type of cancer begins in milk ducts. It can be invasive, meaning it spreads out of the milk duct and encroaches into other portions of the breast. It can also be in situ, meaning it stays in the milk ducts. When diagnosed early enough, in situ carcinomas are relatively simple to address, although they might become malignant if left untreated. It is important to note that approximately 80% of breast carcinomas involve invasive ductal carcinomas.

  • Lobular carcinoma: This type of breast cancer originates in the milk-producing glands (lobules). When lobular carcinoma is in situ, it is regarded as the least concerning type of breast tumor since it is unlikely to metastasize. However, it should still be addressed as specified by a physician since it can indicate the chance of additional tumor formation over time. When lobular carcinomas are invasive, they are typically more concerning and are especially challenging to detect.

Why have routine breast cancer screenings?

The ideal way to reduce the risk of breast cancer, along with following an active, healthy lifestyle, is to get breast cancer screenings regularly. Breast cancer screenings often include a clinical evaluation along with a mammogram (x-ray imaging of the breast carried out to identify excessively dense breast tissue). Routine breast exams are crucial for diagnosing breast cancer in the early stages and giving yourself the greatest possible chance of survival. You can also perform self-breast cancer exams and should do so regularly. Your medical practitioner can provide information on how to conduct this in the proper manner.

Schedule your breast cancer screening

The staff at GastroArkansas are pleased to observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and urge people in Little Rock, AR to help protect their general health by having routine examinations for breast cancer. Visiting a trusted physician for regular breast cancer screenings can help determine your personal risk for developing breast cancer and can offer the best chance of protecting your general health.