Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting American women, and is second only to lung cancer as a leading cause of cancer death in women. The number of breast cancer cases has been on the rise during the past 20 years, while the death rate from breast cancer has decreased slightly in the past five years. The increase in cases is related, in part, to a greater emphasis on screening with routine breast exams and mammography.
These screening tools often can detect breast cancer at an earlier stage, when it is more treatable, which helps explain why the death rate has not increased significantly.
WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called "Me & the Girls," explores the personal stories of these women after they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Jennifer Mukai, 43, lives in the Seattle area. Mukai got her first-ever mammogram in May 2009, right after turning 43. That mammogram led to her breast cancer diagnosis.
Mammograms don't determine whether someone...
The exact cause of breast cancer has not been established, but there are risk factors that may play a role. A risk factor is a trait or behavior that increases a person's chance of developing a disease or makes a person susceptible to a certain condition. Risk factors for breastcancer include:
Being a carrier of an altered form of the breast cancer gene, BRCA1 or BRCA2 (Genes are the basic unit of heredity. They contain instructions for a cell's development and function, and are passed on from parents to children.)
All women should be aware of their risk for breast cancer. It can affect women of every age, race, and ethnic group. However, the rates of developing and dying from breast cancer vary among various racial and ethnic groups.
According to the National Cancer Institute, white, non-Hispanic women have the highest overall incidence rate for breast cancer among U.S. racial/ethnic groups, while Korean-American women have the lowest rate. Among women ages 40-50, African-American women have a higher incidence of breast cancer than white women and the highest death rate from breast cancer. Chinese-American women have the lowest death rate.