Breast Cancer: Prevention is the Key

Breast Cancer: Prevention is the Key

Chances are, you’re in a room right now with a woman who has or has had breast cancer, and probably more than one woman. That’s because one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Think about that: one in eight.

Breast cancer is the #1 cancer killer among women but the good news is, if you catch it early, there’s a very good chance you can beat it. While there are many factors that contribute to breast cancer, most doctors will agree that prevention is the key.

The first step to prevention for women is to remain up to date on their regular exams. Though most women are urged to begin mammograms at the age of 40, many doctors recommend that women should start their own self-breast exams by the age of 30. There’s no risk so the earlier a woman starts, the better. It may cause an unnecessary alarm but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Yearly mammograms after the age of 40 are another necessity. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may want to consider a screening mammogram before the age of 40. Even if it isn’t covered by insurance, a screening mammogram isn’t very expensive and it would be worth it to be certain.

If you have dense breasts, it may be necessary to request a breast MRI or ultrasound. Ask the radiologist who performs your mammogram to inform you of your breast density score and find out if a different test is right for you.

So how do you know if you are at risk for breast cancer?

While many like to point to family history, there are, in fact, many other factors that contribute to breast cancer. While some are not within a patient’s control, most have to do with everyday lifestyle choices.

Some contributing lifestyle factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use (1-2 drinks per day)
  • Unhealthy diet (refined foods, meats, saturated fats, sugars)

This is another reason to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The less risk factors you have, the better your chances of avoiding breast cancer.

Women over the age of 50, women who have had children in their 30s and women who had a menstrual cycle prior to age 12 also have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Family history is another important component. If a patient has a sister, mother or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer, the risk for the patient is doubled. If more than one of these relatives has been diagnosed, the patient’s risk is five times higher than average. As strange as it sounds, men can get breast cancer though it is rare. However, if a patient has a brother or a father with breast cancer, her chances of developing breast cancer will increase.

Any instances of family cancer, on either side of the family, should give a patient reason for concern. There is also a small chance that a patient’s breast cancer is tied to a genetic mutation, though it only accounts for about 5% of all breast cancer diagnoses. The good news is, there is genetic testing available and, if found, a plan may be established early.

The most important thing a woman can do it simply limit risk. Some things are out of our control, but if there are risk factors that you can control, you should.

Here is a quick list of things you should do:

  • Start by having a conversation with family members. Knowing your family medical history can help you avoid a lot of medical issues, including breast cancer.
  • The next thing to do is stick to your regular OB-GYN exams and mammograms. For most of us, that’s only once a year – not really a big commitment.
  • Perform breast self-exams whenever you shower.
  • Above all, keep a healthy lifestyle.

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