pink ribbon quilt breast cancer awarenessEvery October, or Breast Cancer Awareness Month as it's known, the little pink ribbonscome out in droves. We get inundated with info about BSEs (breast self-exams), annual mammos, and all the latest technology out there for breast cancer prevention. And it's amazing, but sometimes the little-known butsurprising facts about breast cancer aren't the ones most publicized. Yet, they might be extremely helpful.

Here, four stunning facts about breast cancer women of all ages should know ...

  1. Dense breasts up breast cancer risk. No need to panic, but having dense breasts increases -- as much as four- or five-fold -- a woman’s chances of de­veloping breast cancer, say experts. Our breasts tend to get less glandular as we grow older, but a significant percentage of postmenopausal women still has dense breasts. Therefore, it's pretty much imperative that you discuss your breast density with your doc. He or she can help recommend screenings that, in addition to your mammogram, may be more beneficial to you, such as ultrasound.
  2. Hormone therapy isn't doing you any favors, either. As use of synthetic HRT (like Premarin) has dropped, breast cancer rates have, as well. One study from the Journal of the American Medical Association even found that women on combined hormone therapy -- that's estrogen plus progestin (lab-made progesterone), which describes a menopausal drug called Prempro and most birth control pills -- were twice as likely to die from breast cancer compared to women receiving a placebo. And other research shows women with a strong family history of breast cancer may have up to an 11 times higher risk of breast cancer if they have ever taken the pill.
  3. Family history may not matter. Although we tend to worry about family history of the disease, most cases of diagnosed breast cancer -- approximately 75 percent -- are actually not hereditary and occur in women with no family history of the disease! Of course, if you do have a family history, you should speak with your doctor about taking the proper precautions (in the case of having a first-degree relative who had breast cancer, you should start receiving yearly mammograms 10 years earlier than the age they were diagnosed). Approximately 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary and result from genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2.
  4. Breast cancer screening really is super important. But that's not the surprising part. This is: About 30 out of 1,000 40-year-olds will die from breast cancer in the absence of screening. Hence why that U.S. Task Force recommendation from 2009 stating that women should wait until they're 50 to have annual mammos was a bunch of bunk! Thank goodness 8 in 10 women realize the guideline is unsafe.

Do these facts surprise you? What's another one you think most women should know?