Breast Cancer Awareness: History, Facts, Trivia, and More!

As the month is quickly coming to a close, we hope that Breast Cancer Awareness continues to be prominent beyond October. To continue our series, here’s a list of not-so-known facts that pertain to breast cancer itself, along with some interesting historical bits and other trivial things. All of these (and more that were excluded) can be found here. Enjoy! 🙂

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). The first NBCAM took place in October 1985.

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.

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.

The left breast is statistically more prone to developing cancer than the right breast. Scientists are unsure why.

The first operation to use anesthesia was a breast cancer surgery.

The incidence of breast cancer is highest in more developed countries and lowest in less developed countries.

In the U.S., an average of 112 women die of breast cancer every day, or one every 15 minutes.

The United States has the most cases of breast cancer in the world.

The first recorded mastectomy for breast occurred in A.D. 548 on Theodora, Empress of Byzantine.

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.

There are currently 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States.

During 2002-2006, 95% of new cases and 97% of breast cancer deaths occurred in women 40 years and older. The biggest single risk factor for breast cancer is age.

It has been estimated that if every woman over the age of 50 had her yearly mammogram, breast cancer deaths in this age group would drop by 25% or more.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Breast cancer was often called the “nun’s disease” because of the high incidence of nuns affected by the cancer.

Breastfeeding has consistently been shown to reduce breast cancer—the greater the duration, the greater the benefit.

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.

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.

Approximately 1.2 million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed around the world each year. About 75% are found in women over age 50.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports a higher risk of breast cancer in women who take multivitamins.

Research has found that pomegranates may help prevent breast cancer. Chemicals called ellagitannins block the production of estrogen, which can fuel some types of breast cancer.

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.

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. 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.

Not all lumps that are found in the breast are cancerous but may be a fibrocystic breast condition (disease), which is benign.

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.


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1 Response to Breast Cancer Awareness: History, Facts, Trivia, and More!

  1. Raymond E Sullivan, M.D. says:

    I have a new book coming out in the not too distant future about Abigail Nabby Adams Smith’s battle with breast cancer to be titled: A Long Journey Home. Keep up the good work. Dr. Ray Sullivan

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