(MS) - In recent years, much has been done to shed a spotlight on the problem of breast cancer. Much of this exposure is thanks to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Formerly known as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Komen for the Cure started as a promise from Nancy G. Brinker to her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that the former would do everything she could to end breast cancer forever. Twenty-five years after that promise was made, Komen for the Cure is now in a position where they've pledged $1 billion toward research and other community health and education programs over the next decade.

Despite the increasing presence of Komen for the Cure, there still exists a mountain of misinformation with regards to breast cancer. Below are some of the more common questions and answers with respect to breast cancer.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Unfortunately, there is not a black and white answer, as many factors can influence the likelihood of getting breast cancer. One of the more well-established risk factors for breast cancer is age. The rate of breast cancer in women under the age of 40 is low, while it begins to increase in women older than 40 and is at its highest in women over 70. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), 95 percent of women diagnosed each year with breast cancer are over the age of 40.

Another common risk factor for breast cancer is family history. A woman with an immediate family member (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer has a two to three times greater chance of developing the disease herself than a woman with no such family history. That chance is four times as great for women who have more than one immediate family member with breast cancer.

Elevated estrogen levels in postmenopausal women also increase the risk for breast cancer. Women with higher levels of estradiol, a type of estrogen, had twice the risk of breast cancer than women with normal levels of estradiol in their bloodstream. Fortunately, this risk factor can be mitigated by the choices an individual makes. That's because estrogen levels can be lowered by daily exercise, a healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy weight.

How can I defend myself against breast cancer?

Regularly checking your breasts for signs and symptoms is the best way to find the disease in its earliest stages, when breast cancer is at its most treatable. Three basic methods of detection work the best.

1. Mammogram: These are X-ray pictures of the breast that can detect breast cancer even before the formation of a lump. Medical professionals suggest that all women over the age of 40 have a mammogram every year.

2. Breast self-exam: This involves examining your breasts, both with your eyes and by feeling them to detect if there are any lumps. This should be performed on a monthly basis and any abnormalities should be reported to a physician immediately.

3. Clinical breast exam: This involves a trip to your physician, who will check both your breasts and underarms for any lumps or changes. This should be scheduled at least once every three years for women under 40, and every year for women age 40 and older.

To learn more about breast
cancer, visit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Web site at www.komen.org.