The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 240,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women and about 42,000 deaths each year. Breast cancer, like many other cancers, can have a variety of risk factors. Some of them, such as being a woman, a family history of breast cancer, and growing older, are unavoidable. But there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of breast cancer or to catch breast cancer at an earlier and more treatable stage.
What you can do to prevent breast cancer
Talk to your doctor — The first step toward a healthy lifestyle is knowledge – know where you are and what your goals are. Have a heart-to-heart talk with your doctor, and take whatever he or she says to you very seriously, and make sure to let your doctor be aware of any physical changes you might be noticing.
“You should be aware of any changes to the breast,” said Dr. Benjamin Banasiewicz, OB/GYN at Med Center Health’s Women’s Health Specialists. “The thing everyone thinks about is new lumps, bumps, things like that, but it could also be changes in the skin, discolorations, changes in the nipple such as indentations or nipple discharge can also be a sign of breast cancer.”
Limit alcohol — There is a clear link between alcohol and an increased risk of developing breast cancer, which increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1 1/2 times the risk of women who don’t drink at all.
Maintain healthy weight, especially after menopause — After menopause, most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen levels.
Keep moving — As with many other illnesses, breast cancer risk is reduced by regular exercise. As little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking may reduce a woman’s risk by as much as 18%.
What you can do to identify breast cancer at an early stage
One of the single most important things a woman can do for herself is annual screening mammograms. Mammography, especially 3D mammography, is still the best exam for breast cancer screening.
“A screening mammogram is much more sensitive at picking up small changes in the breast that we may miss on a physical exam in the office or home breast exam,” said Dr. Banasiewicz. “The earlier you catch breast cancer the easier it is to treat and the chances of mortality are lower the earlier it is detected. If you get a mammogram and it catches it at an early stage, that’s going to be a much easier route of treatment and much less invasive than it would be if it was treated at an advanced stage.”
Numerous scientific studies have confirmed up to a 40% decrease in breast cancer death rates in women who undergo annual mammography. Recommendations on when to start screening vary between age 40 and 45 for most women without significant family history. Talk to your doctor to see what is right for you based on your personal and family health histories.
To schedule an appointment with a doctor at Med Center Health’s Women’s Health Specialists, you can call (270) 781-0075 or visit: medcenterhealth.org/womens-health-specialists.