Facts about Breast Cancer
Facts about Breast Cancer

52 Important Facts about Breast Cancer

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published July 2, 2017
  • The youngest known survivor of breast cancer is Aleisha Hunter from Ontario, Canada. At only three years old, Aleisha underwent a complete mastectomy in 2010 to treat her juvenile strain of breast cancer.[12]
  • Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among American women after skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.[6]
  • The first operation to use anesthesia was a breast cancer surgery.[7]
  • The incidence of breast cancer is highest in more developed countries and lowest in less developed countries.[8]
  • Only 5-10% of breast cancers occur in women who have a genetic predisposition for it. However, women with the gene mutation run a lifetime risk as high as 4 in 5 of developing the disease. The risk of developing ovarian cancer also rises to 2 in 5.[3]
  • In the U.S., an average of 112 women die of breast cancer every day, or one every 15 minutes.[3]
  • Little Known Breast Cancer Facts
    Breast cancer affects the left breast slightly more than the right
  • The left breast is statistically more prone to developing cancer than the right breast. Scientists are unsure why.[9]
  • When breast cancer spreads beyond the breast, it is said to be “metastatic.” The most common places breast cancer spreads to are the bones, liver, and lungs.[2]
  • White women have a higher incidence of breast cancer than African American women. However, African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.[3]
  • Currently, about 1 in 3,000 pregnant or lactating women will develop breast cancer. Research has shown that once a woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy, her chances of survival are less than a non-pregnant woman.[2]
  • Risk factors for male breast cancer include age, BRCA gene mutations, Klinefelter’s syndrome, testicular disorders, a family history of female breast cancer, severe liver disease, radiation exposure, being treated with estrogen-related drugs, and obesity.[8]
  • Notable women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer include “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon (diagnosed in 2006 at age 40), Sheryl Crow (diagnosed in 2006 at 44), Kylie Minoque (diagnosed in 2005 at 36), Elizabeth Edwards (diagnosed in 2004 at 55), Jaclyn Smith (diagnosed in 2002 at 56), and Christina Applegate (diagnosed in 2008 at 36). Other historical figures include Mary Washington (mother of George Washington), Empress Theodora (wife of Justinian), and Anne of Austria (mother of Louis the XIV).[1]
  • No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days you have had you will have lived.

    - Gilda Radner

  • Breast cancer in men is rare, accounting for approximately 1% of breast cancer rates in the U.S. Nearly 400 men die of breast cancer each year. African American men are more likely to die from breast cancer than white men.[3]
  • One in 40 women of Ashkenazi (French, German, and East European) Jewish descent carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 (breast cancer) gene, which is significantly higher than in the general population where only 1 in 500 to 800 people carry the gene.[2]
  • The risk for breast cancer increases when a woman has been using HRT for more than five years. The largest risk is when both estrogen and progesterone are given together. Women who have had a hysterectomy and are taking pills containing estrogen alone are at less of a risk.[2]
  • One myth about breast cancer is that a person’s risk is increased only when there are affected relatives on the mother’s side of the family. However, the father’s side of the family is equally important in assessing breast cancer risk.[6]
  • Tumors are more likely to be malignant when they are firm and have irregular shapes, while benign tumors are more likely to feel round or soft. However, it is important to see a doctor when any lump is found in the breast.[2]
  • In 1810, the daughter of John and Abigail Adams, Abigail “Nabby” Adams Smith (1765-1813) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a grueling mastectomy—without anesthesia. Unfortunately, she still eventually died from the disease three years later.[13]
  • Interesting Theodora Fact
    Theodora died on June 28, AD 548 at the age of 48 (Petar Milošević / Own Work / Creative Commons)
  • The first recorded mastectomy for breast occurred in A.D. 548 on Theodora, Empress of Byzantine.[13]
  • Breast cancer was often called the “nun’s disease” because of the high incidence of nuns affected by the cancer.[13]
  • Although not fully understood, research suggests that pre-eclampsia is associated with a decrease in breast cancer risk in the offspring and the mother.c[3]
  • There are a number of misconceptions about what can cause breast cancer. These include, but are not limited to, using deodorants or antiperspirants, wearing underwire bras, having a miscarriage or induced abortion, or bumping/bruising the breast tissue.[2]
  • No association has been found between breast implants and an increased risk of breast cancer. However, the FDA recently announced that breast implants might be associated with anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). ALCL is not breast cancer, but may show up in the scar capsule surrounding the implant.[10]
  • One study found that increased exposure to ethylene oxide, a fumigant used to sterilize medical experiments, is associated with higher breast cancer risk among women who work in commercial sterilization facilities.[3]
  • A JAMA study reports that women who had taken between one and 25 antibiotic prescriptions over an average of 17 years had an increased risk for breast cancer. The results do not mean women should stop taking antibiotics but that these medicines should be used wisely.[17]
  • Breastfeeding has consistently been shown to reduce breast cancer—the greater the duration, the greater the benefit.[8]
  • Interesting Breast Feeding Fact
    Breast feeding decreases the risk of developing breast cancer

  • Women with high breast density were found to have a four- to six-fold increased risk of breast cancer compared with women with lower breast density.[3]
  • Currently a woman living in the U.S. has a 12.1% (or 1 in 8) chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. In the 1970s, the risk was 1 in 11. The increase is most likely due to longer life expectancy as well as changes in reproductive patterns, longer-term menopausal hormone use, increased obesity, and increased screening.[3]
  • The most common type of breast cancer (70%) originates in the breast ducts and is known as ductal carcinoma. A less common type of breast cancer (15%) is known as lobular carcinoma, or cancer that originates in the lobules. More rare types of cancers include medullary carcinoma, Paget’s disease, tubular carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, and phyllodes tumors.[6]
  • Nurses who work night shifts and flight attendants who have circadian rhythm disruption have a higher risk of breast cancer with long-term employment. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that shift work, especially at night, is carcinogenic to humans.[3]
  • Interesting William Halstead Fact
    Halsted performed the first radical mastectomy for breast cancer in the U.S. at Roosevelt Hospital in New York in 1882.
  • In 1882, the father of American surgery, William Steward Halstead (1852-1922), introduced the first radical mastectomy (the breast tissue underlying chest muscle and the lymph nodes are removed). Until the mid- 1970s, 90% of women with breast cancer were treated with this procedure.[8]
  • Approximately 1.7 million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed around the world each year. About 75% are found in women over age 50.[3]
  • Pomegranates may help prevent breast cancer. Chemicals called ellagitannins block the production of estrogen, which can fuel some types of breast cancer.[15]
  • Studies report that breast cancer patients with diabetes were nearly 50% more likely to die than those who didn’t have diabetes.[2]
  • Long-term breast survivors who were treated with radiation before 1984 have much higher rates of death due to heart disease.[5]
  • There is a strong correlation between increased weight and breast cancer, especially those who gained weight in adolescence or after menopause. Body fat composition in the upper body also increases the risk.[8]
  • On average, it takes 100 days or more for a cancer cell to double in size. It takes about 10 years for cells to divide to a size that can be actually felt.[2]
  • Breast cancer was one of the first cancers to be described by ancient physicians. For example, physicians in ancient Egypt described breast cancer more than 3,500 years ago. One surgeon describes “bulging” tumors in the breast of which “there is no cure.”[13]
  • In 400 B.C., Hippocrates describe breast cancer as a humoral disease caused by black bile or melancholia. He labeled cancer karkinos, meaning “crab,” because the tumors seemed to have tentacles which looked like the legs of crab.[13]
  • To disprove the theory that breast cancer was caused by an imbalance of the four body humors, namely an excess of bile, French physicians Jean Astruc (1684-1766) cooked a slice of breast cancer tissue and a slice of beef and then chewed both. He said that because they tasted exactly the same, breast cancer tumor does not contain bile or acid.[13]
  • The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports a higher risk of breast cancer in women who take multivitamins.[11]
  • Interesting Multivitamin Fact
    Multivitamins have been linked to increased breast cancer risk

  • Some physicians throughout history have proposed that breast cancer was caused by several factors, including lack of sex—which caused reproductive organs, such as the breast, to atrophy and rot. Other physicians suggested that “vigorous sex” blocked the lymphatic system, that depression restricted blood vessels and trapped coagulated blood, and that a sedentary lifestyle slowed bodily fluids.[13]
  • Jerome Urban (1914-1991), who practiced the super-radical mastectomy in 1949, would remove not only the breast and axillary nodes but also the chest muscles and internal mammary nodes in a single procedure—often on patients who had tumors less than a centimeter large. He stopped in 1963 when he became convinced it worked no better than the less mutilating radical mastectomy.[13]
  • October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). The first NBCAM took place in October 1985.[6]
  • Studies show that social isolation and stress can increase the speed at which breast cancer tumors grow in animal models.[2]
  • Not all lumps that are found in the breast are cancerous but may be a fibrocystic breast condition (disease), which is benign.[2]
  • Researchers speculate that left-handed women are more prone to developing breast cancer because they are exposed to higher levels of certain steroid hormones in the womb.[16]
  • Interesting Mammogram Fact
    Even for women over 50, skipping a mammogram every other year would miss up to 30% of cancers
  • Mammography was initially used in 1969 when the first specialized X-ray units for breast imagining were developed.[6]
  • After Angelina Jolie announced she had tested positive for the breast cancer gene (BRCA1), the number of women getting tested for breast cancer doubled.[14]
  • One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.[4]
  • Over 2.8 million breast cancer survivors are alive in the United States today.[4]
  • Approximately every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and 1 woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes.[4]

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