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Breast and ovarian cancer

How common are breast and ovarian cancers?

How common are breast and ovarian cancers?

One in every nine women (about 11% of women) will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer diagnosed among women — skin cancer tops the list. An average woman's risk of ovarian cancer is about 1% to 2% (about one in 70).


Ovarian cancer is more difficult to detect than breast cancer and is much harder to treat because it tends to be found after it has spread. You are most likely to be at risk for inherited breast or ovarian cancer if you have a family history of one or both of these diseases. Meeting with a genetic counselor or a doctor trained in genetics will help you decide if genetic testing is right for you.


Genetic testing can show if you have a mutated copy of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. If you do, you are much more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer. Knowing you are at greater risk can help you take action to detect and diagnose these cancers as early as possible.


The BRCA Genetic Testing Program offers confidential genetic testing to members in most Aetna plans. (Member Services can verify your benefit. Call the number on the back of your ID card.) Your doctor will need to confirm that you are at risk for one of these mutations. His or her office will send Aetna a testing request form.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that can develop in one of several areas of the breast. A woman's risk of developing breast cancer increases with age; more than 3 out of 4 breast cancer cases occur in women over age 50. Other risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Having close relatives, such as a mother, sister or grandmother, who have had the disease
  • Being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent
  • Having had chest radiation for another cancer, such as Hodgkin's disease
  • Having already had the disease or certain other abnormalities of breast tissue
  • Increased exposure to the female hormone estrogen -- by having a first menstrual period before age 13, entering menopause after age 51, or using estrogen replacement therapy for more than 5 years.
  • Never having been pregnant, or having a first pregnancy after age 30
  • Being overweight, especially after menopause
  • Drinking alcohol (cancer risk doubles with three or more drinks per day)
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle with little regular exercise

Read more about breast cancer

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the ovaries. Ovarian cancer often does not cause any symptoms until it has spread beyond the ovary. Doctors have a hard time detecting the disease during a pelvic exam before this late stage. The chances of developing ovarian cancer also increase with age. Most ovarian cancers occur in women over age 50. The highest risk is in women over 60. Women who have never had children are more likely to develop ovarian cancer, too.

Read more about ovarian cancer

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