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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Who Gets Breast Cancer and Who Survives?

Who Gets It? continued...

Family History: If a close relative has it (such as a mother, sister, or daughter), your chance of getting it doubles. But less than 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member who has it.

Radiation Therapy : Women who've had this treatment to the chest area before age 30 (for instance, for Hodgkin’s lymphoma) have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.

Menopausal Hormone Therapy (or Hormone Replacement Therapy): Studies show that taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone hormones for more than 5 years after menopause can increase your risk.

Being Overweight: Before menopause, most of your estrogen comes from your ovaries. Afterward, most of it comes from fat tissue. This raises your estrogen levels, and your chances of getting breast cancer.

Many of the same risk factors for women also apply to men: aging, having the BRCA genes, a family history of breast cancer, and radiation exposure. But men are far less likely to get the disease than women, because they have very low levels of "female hormones" in their bodies.

Who Survives?

It's not always clear. Much of it seems to depend on how advanced the cancer is -- or what “stage” it is -- when doctors find it.

Doctors rate each stage from 0 to IV, depending on the size of the tumor, whether it’s spread to other parts of the body, and other things. A stage 0 means the disease hasn’t spread. Stage IV means it has.

Here’s the American Cancer Society’s, 5-year survival rate by stage:

Stage 0-I -- 100%
Stage II -- 93%
Stage III -- 72%
Stage IV -- 22%

Each type of breast cancer "has a different prognosis and a unique responsiveness to specific medical treatments," says Dennis Citrin, PhD, a medical oncologist at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Illinois. How well you follow your treatment plan also affects your health, he says.

Bivins agrees. "You have to really listen to those physicians so you can have the best chance of survival," she says. "And so, when they told me to do something, I did it. And I think that's why I'm here today."

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