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5 Surprising Breast Cancer Facts

“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to test how much you really know about this all-too-common disease,” said Brandi Kincaid, an advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner at Lake Regional Cancer Center. “Learning about risk factors and the signs of breast cancer can save a woman’s life.”

Following are five important facts to know.

1. Breast cancer is not the leading health threat to women. Heart disease is actually far deadlier for women. Nationwide, breast cancer causes 1 in 31 female deaths every year. But coronary heart disease causes 1 in 8 female deaths.

And looking only at cancer deaths, lung cancer kills more women in the U.S. than breast cancer.

2. Most breast cancer is not inherited. Only about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers appear to develop directly from gene defects — such as those in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene — passed on from a parent.

What’s more, even a family history of breast cancer is not as concerning as many women might fear. “Having a close relative with breast cancer does raise a woman’s risk,” Kincaid said. “Yet, 85 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.”

3. A preventive mastectomy doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of breast cancer. Some women who are at high risk for getting breast cancer opt to have both breasts removed to avoid the disease. A preventive mastectomy can, in fact, reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 90 percent or more. But some risk still remains because even a mastectomy can’t remove all breast tissue.

4. Breast-feeding may help lower a woman’s risk. Some studies show that breast-feeding for a lifetime total of at least one year is associated with decreased risk for both hormone receptor-positive and hormone receptor-negative breast cancer.

5. Dense breasts are a risk. Women with dense breasts have up to twice the risk of breast cancer as women with average breast density. “ ‘Dense’ does not mean ‘firm,’ ” Kincaid said. “Dense breasts have more fibrous and glandular tissue and less fatty tissue. A woman cannot tell from look or feel that her breasts are dense. It shows up on imaging.”

Unfortunately, dense breasts not only are associated with greater risk but also may make mammograms less accurate. After receiving a mammogram, ask your doctor whether your breasts are dense. If the answer is yes, the two of you can discuss whether you need additional imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI.

A Local Breast Cancer Survivor Shares Her Story

Roseann Dzurko found out she had breast cancer following a routine mammogram. "You have to have a positive outlook," she said. "At first it's scary, but then you meet your doctor and your nurses, and they encourage you." Read Dzuarko's story here. Dr. Wang, Roseann Dzurko and Angela Ullrich, R.N.