October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer often touches our lives in many ways, whether it is through the diagnosis of a friend, family member, or our own personal experience. Breast cancer death rates have been steadily decreasing since 1989, but there is still a long way to go in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. One in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime and an estimated 40,000 women are expected to die from it each year.
All women can take steps to protect themselves against the risks involved with developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is usually found in women older than 55, but it is never too early or too late to be proactive about your breast health.
Steps to Prevent Breast Cancer
- Stay Physically Active & Control Your Weight: Higher body weight and weight gain are both linked to higher rates of breast cancer. Doctors recommend you control your weight by balancing a healthy diet with regular exercise. Exercising for even just 30 minutes a day can lower your risk of developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.
- Do Not Smoke and Limit Alcohol Intake: Physicians discourage smoking because of its detrimental effect on many parts of the body, including increasing the risk for several types of cancer. Additionally, any amount of alcohol can increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. For this reason, ACS recommends that women consume no more than one alcoholic beverage a day. A drink is considered a 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of a hard liquor.
- Limit Exposure to Environmental Factors: Exposure to radiation is commonly linked to many types of cancer. Radiation exposure builds up over your lifetime, so regular contact with radiation is not recommended. Physicians are still researching this field, but they recommend avoiding unnecessary sources of radiation.
- Do Not Miss Doctor’s Appointments: You can begin receiving mammograms at age 40. You should discuss when to begin regular mammograms with your doctor; they can help you come to an informed decision about the risks and benefits associated with the procedure. If you decide to wait to start receiving mammograms, you should wait no longer than age 50 to begin. The American College of OB/GYN recommends mammograms be performed yearly or every other year, depending on you and your doctor’s preferences. You should continue with regular mammograms until you are 75. Aside from mammogram appointments, it is crucial to stay up to date with visits to your primary care physician. Alert them to any changes you notice to both your breasts and your overall health because they might be warning signs of something more serious.
- Breastfeed Your Children: In addition to being a healthy start for your child, breastfeeding also lowers breast cancer rates in women. Doctors recommend breastfeeding for at least a year total. Time spent breastfeeding multiple children counts towards your one year total goal.
Other Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Unfortunately, there are other factors that cannot be controlled that also contribute to the overall risk of developing breast cancer. Let your doctor know if any of the following factors apply:
- Early Menstruation: Most likely due to longer exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, women who started menstruating early (especially before age 12) are more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Dense Breasts: The composition of your breasts can be determined by a standard mammogram. If your breasts are comprised of more glandular and fibrous tissue than fatty tissue, your risk of developing breast cancer is one-and-a-half to two times higher than a woman with mostly fatty tissue breasts. Breast density changes over your lifetime and is affected by genetics, hormones, pregnancy, age, and menopause.
- Inherited Risk: Women who are closely related to another woman or man who has been diagnosed with breast cancer are two to three times more likely to develop breast cancer themselves. If possible, familiarize yourself with your family’s medical history to know if you are at inherited risk for breast cancer.
- Aging and Going Through Menopause Later in Life: Breast cancer is typically found in women above the age of 55, so older women are considered to be at a higher risk. Additionally, if you start menopause later in life (after age 55), your risk of developing breast cancer is higher because of your prolonged exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
- Other Breast Diseases: Other benign breast conditions can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Proliferative lesions with atypia (such as atypical ductal and lobular hyperplasia) can increase risk of breast cancer four or five fold. Proliferative lesions without atypia; including conditions like fibroadenoma, radial scar, and sclerosing adenosis can slightly increase your risk of breast cancer.
Do not wait to see a physician about your breast health. Call Capital Women’s Care to schedule an appointment and become more educated about what you can do to prevent breast cancer.