From screening to treatment, facing the realities of breast cancer can feel daunting. Remember, though, there’s power in the choices you make each day. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, learn how to lower your risk.
It’s true that certain risk factors for breast cancer are unavoidable. For instance, you’re more likely to develop the disease as you get older. In fact, women ages 50 and older make up most breast cancer cases. Those whose mothers, sisters, or daughters have had breast cancer also face a higher risk.
Race and ethnicity play a role, too. For example, breast cancer develops slightly more often in white women than in Black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian women. However, Black women are more likely to develop more aggressive, more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at a young age, according to breastcancer.org.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other breast cancer risk factors include:
- Genetic mutations. Women who have inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history. Starting menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
- Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical ductal hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (for instance, treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
Take Smart Steps
If you do have risk factors, try not to stress. Little factors you can control can make a big difference.
Women can take several steps to reduce their breast cancer risk. Try adopting these smart lifestyle changes:
- Scale back. Women after menopause who are at a healthy weight are less likely to get breast cancer than those who are overweight or obese.
- Get moving. Physical activity can help lower your chances of getting breast cancer.
- Cut down on alcohol. The more you drink, the more you’re at risk. One alcoholic beverage a day can add up to a 10% increase in risk; two to three a day bumps it to 20%.
- Banish the (cigarette) butts. According to the CDC, there’s evidence smoking may increase breast cancer risk.
- Mind your meals. Some studies suggest that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and calcium-rich dairy — and low in red and processed meats — might help lower the risk for breast cancer.
Schedule Your Screening
If breast cancer does strike, it’s important to catch it early, when it’s most treatable.
Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms can find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt, according to the CDC.
Experts have varying recommendations for this screening.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following:
- Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.
- Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
Mammogram benefits and limitations vary based on factors like age and personal risk. Talk with your primary care provider about your personal risk level before deciding when to start mammograms or how often to get them.
Remember, breast cancer awareness extends beyond October. If you’re due for a mammogram, schedule early for the best availability of dates, times, and locations. To schedule online, log in to MyThedaCare and select ‘Schedule an Appointment,’ and then ‘Screening Mammogram.’