Do You Really Know Your Breast Cancer Risk?

by | Oct 10, 2013 | Health

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, South Africa is ranked 50th on the list of countries with the highest cancer prevalence. Among women, the most prevalent is breast cancer and statistics show that 1 in 29 South African women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This figure is even higher in urban communities in South Africa, where the incidence is as high as 1 in 8.

These statistics are mirrored in Altrisk’s critical illness claims by women from May 2012 to May 2013, which show that cancer dominates the female critical illness landscape, while breast cancer specifically tops the lists of all cancer claims by a far margin.

READ MORE: Exactly What To Do If You Notice A Lump In Your Breast

Critical Illness Claims*

• Currently the leading cause of critical illness claims among women is cancer.
• Of the total cancer claims by women, 25% are specifically for breast cancer, where the average age is 53.
• The average age of women submitting a claim for cancer is 43.

Life Claims*

• The leading cause of all life claims by women is due to cancer, at 29%, with an average age of 57.
• The average age of life claims due to breast cancer is 52.

The majority of Altrisk’s critical illness, life and disability claims are by women between the ages of 43 and 55, while cancer claims, particularly for breast cancer, are happening at increasingly younger ages. This could mean that women are heeding the call for early detection and diagnosis.

“The emphasis on pre-emptive screening and early diagnosis and treatment cannot be emphasised enough in the fight against breast cancer. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer are important factors in winning the battle and surviving with less extensive, invasive surgery – and with your finances intact,” says Dalene Allen, underwriting director at Altrisk.

READ MORE: 3 Random Things That Can Totally Mess With Your Mammogram Results

Manage Your Risk

The Radiological Society of South Africa recommends that women aged 40 or older should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. Women between 50 and 75 should have an annual mammogram. Women at high risk, usually due to a history of breast cancer in a close family relative, should have annual mammograms and MRI starting at age five years before the age their family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. High risk is defined as a lifetime risk greater than 15%. Your doctor will help you calculate this or it can be done here.

READ MORE: This Really Simple Image Could Actually Help You Detect Breast Cancer

Every woman is potentially at risk of getting breast cancer. However, there are certain factors that would put women in a higher risk category. These risk factors include:


The risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. About 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, while about 2 out of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.

Family history

Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease. Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk of threefold.

Personal history

A woman with cancer in one breast has three to four times increased risk of developing new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from a recurrence (return) of first cancer.

Dense breast tissue

Women with denser breast tissue (as seen on a mammogram) have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue and have a higher risk of breast cancer. Unfortunately, dense breast tissue can also make it harder for doctors to spot problems on mammograms.

Overweight or obese women

Research has shown that being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast and other cancers. Now, a broader study suggests that overweight and obese women diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer have a higher risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence) and are less likely to survive the disease.

Lifestyle factors

Excessive alcohol use, little to no physical activity, smoking and diets high in saturated fats increase the risk of breast cancer.

* Breast cancer symptoms and risks provided by the Radiological Society of South Africa

* Statistics based on Altrisk’s assessment of its critical illness, disability and life insurance claims, made by women, between 1 May 2012 and 30 April 2013.

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