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Cancer Prevention & Control

Breast Cancer in South Carolina

Self breast examBreast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in South Carolina. It’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the state.

Throughout the U.S., about 40,000 women die each year from breast cancer according to the CDC. Nationally breast cancer is

  • The most common cancer in women, no matter their race or ethnicity.
  • The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
  • The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.

It’s Important to Catch Breast Cancer Early

Thanks in part to breast cancer screening/early detection, long-term survival rates for breast cancer have improved dramatically over the last several decades.

In the 1960s, 63 out of 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer were still living 5 years following their diagnosis of breast cancer. Today, 90 out of 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer are still living 5 years following diagnosis. In addition,  today 82 out of 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer are living at least 10 years following diagnosis, and 77 out of 100 are living at least 15 years.

How big a difference does early detection make?

  • Women with breast cancer diagnosed at the earliest stage (Stage 1), before the cancer has had time to spread to lymph nodes or other locations outside the breast, have a 99% chance of surviving at least 5 years.
  • Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer after the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes (Stages 2 and 3), have an 84% chance of surviving at least 5 years.
  • Once breast cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes or organs throughout the body (Stage 4), the 5-year survival rate falls to 23%.

So if you find a lump, skin change, or any other breast changes or unusual discharge from your nipple(s), see your health care provider right away. Do not wait. Do monthly breast self-exams. (If you don’t know how, ask your healthcare provider to teach you.) See your healthcare provider each year for a breast exam. And if you are 40 or older, have a mammogram once a year.

(If you are a woman age 47 to 64 and lack insurance or have insurance that only covers hospital care, you may qualify for free breast and cervical cancer screenings through DHEC’s Best Chance Network.)

Can Men Get Breast Cancer?

Yes, men can get breast cancer. But breast cancer is about 100 times more common in women than in men. In men, breast cancer can happen at any age, but is most common in men who are between 60 and 70 years old. Medical treatment options are the same for both women and men who get breast cancer.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Research has shown that these risk factors increase your risk of getting breast cancer.

  • Female gender
  • 55 Years of age or older
  • Using hormone replacement therapy for menopause
  • Using alcohol
  • Being overweight or obese (especially after menopause)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Radiation treatments to breast during teens
  • Treatment with DES
  • Starting period before age 12
  • Starting menopause after age 55
  • Inherited genetic differences
  • Family history of breast cancer, especially in a mother, sister or daughter
  • Personal history of breast cancer in one breast
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Race (White women are slightly more likely to get breast cancer than African-American women. African American women, though, are more likely to die of breast cancer.)
  • Certain non-cancerous breast problems
  • Cells that look like cancer cells but are not, in milk-making glands (a condition called Lobular carcinoma in situ)
  • Not having children or having first child after age 30  
  • Recent use of birth control pills or Depo Provera/DMPA shot.

Other Possible Risk Factors

Recent research offers some evidence to show that the following factors may also raise your risk for breast cancer. However, the links with breast cancer are not yet completely clear at this point; more research is needed.

  • Eating Meat/High Fat Diet: Some studies show that diet may play a role in breast cancer, particularly the amount of fat in the diet and intake of meat. Studies show that women in countries/cultures that follow a low fat diet (low consumption of meat and animal products) have lower rates of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting consumption of meats, which is also linked to other cancers (especially colon and prostate cancers).
  • Smoking: Some studies have found that smoking may increase the risk of breast cancer, especially for women who started smoking when they were young.
  • Exposure to Pollution/Certain Chemicals: Research suggests a possible link between air pollution and breast cancer. So far, research has not established a clear link between breast cancer risk and exposure to things like plastics, certain cosmetics and personal care products, and pesticides.

What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

  • Minimize alcohol consumption.
  • Get plenty of physical exercise (especially important in reducing risk of post-menopausal breast cancer).
  • Maintain a healthy weight (especially important in reducing risk of post-menopausal breast cancer).
  • Breastfeed your baby.
  • Do not use (or discontinue) long-term hormone therapy to ease symptoms of menopause.
  • Catch problems early by doing monthly breast self-exams.
  • Get a yearly breast exam from your healthcare provider, and if you are 40 years of age or older, get a yearly mammogram.

What Healthcare Providers and Hospitals Can Do

  • Provide meeting space for cancer support groups.
  • Encourage participation in research, including clinical trials.
  • Encourage women to assist with the design and participate in studies of women who have had early-stage cancer and have finished therapy.
  • Encourage eligible women to get mammograms at recommended intervals.
  • Assure that your cancer cases are reported to your hospital cancer registry or The South Carolina Central Cancer Registry.