As you breathe in the crisp autumn air, your heart may skip a beat as you remember the significance of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Chances are we all know someone – a relative, friend, co-worker, neighbor or acquaintance – who has battled breast cancer.
Fortunately, more women than ever are winning their battles but there is still much to be done to eradicate breast cancer mortalities. Knowing your risk factors and early detection are two key components to reaching this goal. And these are two steps where you can take some control of the situation.
Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
Understanding your personal risk factors for breast cancer can not only set you on a better path to prevention, but also help you remain vigilant so early detection is possible should you get breast cancer. Risk factors of breast cancer include:
- Advanced age – risk increases with age
- Age of first period, giving birth and menopause – early and prolonged menstruation and having babies later in life increases risk
- Race, ethnicity and familial decent – White, Black and women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are most at risk
- Family history – those with mothers or sisters who had breast cancer are at increased risk
- Birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, naturally high IGF-1, estrogen, androgen or prolactin levels – increases risk
- High bone density and breast density – increases risk
- Weight gain and height (being taller) – increases risk
- Radiation treatment or exposure – increases risk
- Excessive alcohol use – increases risk
- Light exposure at night and shift work – increases risk
Share your risk factor categories with your doctor to determine the best course of prevention and detection for your unique health status. Also, anyone can work towards decreasing risk factors by exercising and eating a healthy diet of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (especially carotenoids). Plus, breastfeeding is one incredible way to reduce risk of breast cancer and reap many other health benefits for you and your baby.
Early Detection of Breast Cancer
Early detection of breast cancer saves lives. The leading way to early detection is through monthly self breast exams and feeling or observing abnormal chances to the breast or nipple. These may include lumps or nipple discharge. However, if you do find a lump, try to remain calm. Most lumps are benign but you should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to have it checked out.
Your physician, whether that’s an OBGYN or general practitioner, will likely perform a clinical breast exam at every check-up. Depending on your risk factors, healthy women begin having mammograms (an x-ray of your breasts) around age 40. Different agencies have varying recommendations for how often mammograms should be performed. Discuss a course of action with your doctor.
If a radiologist finds abnormalities in your mammogram, you will likely undergo additional tests until you are given an “all clear” or are diagnosed with breast cancer. Catching breast cancer at early stages yields a high rate of survival and helps ensure the cancer does not spread outside the breast.
The CDC’s Breast Cancer Awareness campaign highlights that, like bras, there is not a “one size fits all” course of action when it comes to breast cancer. Determining your risk factors and being vigilant about self-exams, clinical exams and screenings will help you stay on top of your health and lead to early detection for the best possible outcome.
Sources: CDC and Susan G. Komen