Breast Cancer: Three Women, Three Different Lives

Marisa had a family history of breast cancer. Her mother and grandmother both had breast cancer in their forties. Her mother survived. Her grandmother didn't. Now, Marisa's doctor just told her she has breast cancer.

Alessandra tried every diet she had heard of—but still gained weight. She couldn't stop eating junk food—even though she knew that fruits and vegetables were better for her health. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn't understand the connection between her diet and breast cancer until it was too late.

Juanita couldn't stand the symptoms she used to get from menopause back in 1992—the hot flashes, the dry skin, the mood swings. So when her doctor gave her hormone replacement therapy (HRT), she was very happy. But doctors didn't know the long-term effects of HRT when Juanita was taking that medication—and now, after having taken the drug for over ten years, she has a cancerous lump in her breast.

Three different women. Three different reasons. But one disease—breast cancer—that affects minority women most of all.

Why Do Some Women Get Breast Cancer And Others Don't?

Women of all ethnicities get breast cancer. Minority women are particularly hard hit: Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer diagnoses and death among Hispanic women.1 Afrcian American women have the highest breast cancer death rate among all minority women.2

There are several risk factors for getting breast cancer. These include3:

  • Family history and genetics. Like Marisa, if your mother or grandmother had breast cancer, especially before the age of 75, it is highly likely you might develop it, too.
  • Being overweight. If you are more than twenty pounds over your ideal weight, your body produces more estrogen—putting you at risk for breast cancer.
  • Taking estrogen long-term. Estrogen is a hormone that gives women their female traits. It is made in your body from your first period through menopause. If you have been on hormone replacement therapy for a long time or if you have taken high-dose birth control pills for many years, you may develop breast cancer. A recent study3 linked the use of HRT with an increased risk of breast cancer, especially for women over 50, and found that stopping HRT reduced the rate of breast cancer by 7% – a very significant percent drop.

It is important to remember that just because you may be at risk doesn't mean you will get breast cancer. And for minority women in particular, the more you reduce the risk factors for breast cancer the less your chances for getting the disease. So start now: begin to eat better, shed weight, and ask your doctor about the recent findings about estrogen and HRT and breast cancer.

And one other key recommendation: Get a mammogram every year. The best and most effective treatments for breast cancer are those that are started early. Yearly mammograms help your doctor discover breast cancer at the earliest time, when it's most treatable. Mammograms are totally painless, so get yearly checkups. The more you know about breast cancer the better. And the earlier you catch breast cancer, the more effective the treatment in most cases.

So take your wellness in hand. Talk to your doctor about breast cancer. Get the facts. Go to the American Cancer Society's website ( and the website for the National Institutes of Health ( The more you know, the better off you'll be. Start now!  

The information provided in this newsletter/article is for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please check with your doctor for advice about changes that may affect your health.

Medical Review by WellPoint:
Frank Brown, M.D., Medical Director
Sandra White, M.D., Medical Director

Legal Review by WellPoint:
Lynette Cooper, RN CMCN, Senior Paralegal
Amy Sansbury, Associate General Counsel

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

2 Office of Minority Health, “Breast Cancer: A Resource Guide for Minority Women,” May, 2005, page 4.

3 Centers for Disease Control and prevention

4 Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health