Breast Cancer Basics: Knowing Your Risk and How to Protect Yourself

Understand the disease to help ease some of the fear around it.

A breast cancer diagnosis comes with a lot of anxiety and worry. Learning what you can about the disease can help ease some of the fear it brings. Here's what you need to know about your risk of developing breast cancer, just how common it is, and more.

Does Breast Cancer Affect Just the Breasts?

Breast cancer encompasses diseases of the many types of tissues that make up the breast, with each type and cause of uncontrolled growth having its own prognosis and mode of treatment. Cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell growth, so those cells can then invade areas near the breast (such as the lymph nodes under the arm) or other parts of the body (like the lungs, liver or brain). Learn more about how breast cancer spreads here.

How Common Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer in women, according to the CDC. Almost one in eight women will develop cancer that invades surrounding tissues and requires treatment over the course of their life. While that number sounds frightening, the good news is that most women diagnosed with breast cancer will survive. While diagnoses have remained steady over the last decade, death rates from cancer have fallen and survival at five years has increased.

What Is My Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?

Simply being female and aging -- two things you can't control -- are the two biggest risk factors of developing breast cancer. But there are a variety of other risk factors too:

  • Genetics
  • Overweight or obesity, especially if weight is gained after menopause
  • Lifestyle factors like physical inactivity or drinking more than one alcoholic drink per day
  • Never having had children or having children after 30
  • A previous history of breast cancer or radiation therapy to the chest

What About Genetics?

Most breast cancers are not genetic, even in cases where a woman might have a relative with a history of breast cancer. In the U.S., only 5-10% of breast cancers are hereditary. In some cases though, there is a genetic component. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are the best known and dramatically increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. However, these mutations are rare within the general population. Learn more about hereditary breast cancer here.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

While there's no sure way to avoid breast cancer, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. An important thing you can do is get mammogram screenings. Here's a rundown of the procedure and when you should start getting them -- and how often.

You should also do breast self-exams at home. Click here to see the easy steps and what exactly to feel for.

Plus, here are eight lifestyle habits that you may not have associated with breast cancer that may help reduce your risk of developing the disease.

What Is the Treatment for Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer can be treated effectively depending on the stage of the cancer when it's discovered. This is why screening is so important. The earlier a cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. Because of the variability in cancer stage and type, exact treatments are decided on and individualized with help from a doctor. Treatment can range from hormonal therapy to surgery and radiation. Learn more about the various treatments here.

Here's Dr. Oz's Mom's Regimen for Fighting Her Alzheimer's

Here are the tools she uses to help manage the progression of the disease.

Personal photos courtesy of Dr.Oz

When Dr. Oz found out in September 2019 that his mom, Suna, then 81, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, he was gutted. He wondered how he missed the signs and what he could do next. Like so many caregivers, he had to recognize that his mom was not going to get better. But he also knew that he wasn't alone: There is an Alzheimer's diagnosis every 65 seconds.

Dr. Oz immediately contacted his friends and colleagues and crafted a treatment plan with two of the country's top experts in the field: Richard S. Isaacson, MD, a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and the founder of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic, and Dr. Rudy Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard and the founder of the "Alzheimer's Genome Project," who co-discovered the first Alzheimer's gene.

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