Although breast cancer is a scary reality for some women, fear and misinformation drive many women to conduct “search and destroy” missions on their breasts. The reality is that most women will not die from breast cancer. Furthermore, improved treatment options (many of which have fewer side effects and are better targeted toward just the breast) have significantly reduced the death rate in women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. All women can take steps to maintain breast health and lower their chances of developing breast cancer. In fact, the American Institute of Cancer Research reports that 70,000 cases of breast cancer per year (40 percent) could be prevented with lifestyle measures.
Breast health problems
Most breast problems are not cancer. Unfortunately, the symptoms of serious and minor breast problems (such as fibrocystic changes and benign lumps) are similar.
See your doctor if you:
- Observe a change in one or both of your breasts
- Feel a lump
- Experience pain or irritation
- Notice a discharge from your nipple
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis in women, and age is the biggest risk factor. The likelihood that a woman will develop breast cancer increases from 1 in 1,732 for a 20-year-old to 1 in 26 at 70. Other risk factors include genetics, use of contraception, family history, obesity after menopause and alcohol consumption. Not all breast cancers are alike. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, find a physician who can help you evaluate the best treatment options for your type of cancer.
Preserve your breast health
Here are some of the best ways to preserve lifelong breast health and reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Don’t smoke. Twenty-five to 30 percent of all cancer-related deaths are due to tobacco, and the risk of invasive breast cancer is highest in women who began smoking at a young age. If you currently smoke, talk to your doctor about effective smoking cessation programs.
- Maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause. Excess weight increases estrogen (a hormone) and affects other growth factors. Hormones create a more stimulating environment for cancer cells to grow.
- Eat primarily whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Limit alcohol and sugar consumption (sugar feeds cancer cells).
- Move more. Women who exercise regularly have lower risks for breast cancer. If you have a daughter, encourage her to be physically active. Regular physical activity in adolescence may be protective against breast cancer.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep metabolizes stress hormones.
Should you be screened for breast cancer?
The goal of cancer screening is to reduce cancer deaths by detecting and treating cancers before they spread. Cancer screening looks for signs of cancer in people who have no symptoms.
If you’re confused about recent changes in breast cancer screening recommendations, you are not alone. The changes were prompted by updates in the scientific evidence regarding who benefits most from mammograms and how much they benefit. Screening for cancer has benefits (catching cancer before it spreads) as well as potential risks, such as false positives, false negatives and exposure to radiation. Both the benefits and the potential risks vary among women and over an individual woman’s lifetime.
Most health experts agree that women between 50 and 74 should undergo screening mammograms annually or biannually. Women between 40 and 49 should have the option to begin screening. Women with a family history of breast cancer are at somewhat higher risk and may benefit more from mammograms in their 40s. So far, the evidence that mammograms are beneficial in women 75 and older is inconclusive.
Every woman should understand the benefits and potential risks of screening, discuss her personal situation with a trusted healthcare provider and decide together when to begin screening.
To speak to a provider about breast cancer screenings or to schedule a mammogram, call 570-326-8200.