Can We Decrease Our Risk For Breast Cancer?

Most of us know at least one woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, the most common cancer among women in the United States, not including skin cancer.
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The American Cancer Society reports that as many as 1 in every 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some time in her life.  

Women diagnosed in early stages of the cancer have a better chance of long-term survival than in later stages when it has spread, which is why annual check-ups and screenings are critical so that treatment can be initiated as early as possible.

It also is important for women to know their risk factors for breast cancer so that they can be alert and take precautionary measures. We can divide risk factors into two groups, those we cannot influence, and those we can. 

Risk factors we cannot influence include:

Age: The chance of a breast cancer diagnosis increases with age. The highest rates are in women over the age of 60 (age 30 – 0.44% or, 1 in 227 women will be diagnosed with cancer; age 70 – 3.82%, or 1 in 26 women will be diagnosed with cancer*)

Race: White women are diagnosed with breast cancer more often that African-American, Native-American, Asian, and Latina women.

Hereditary:  Women have a higher risk if breast cancer has been diagnosed in a parent or a sibling. Risk increases if the women has previously been diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Having been treated with radiation therapy for cancer also increases the risk.

Reproductive: Women who got their periods before 12 years of age, who entered menopause after age 55, or who either never were pregnant or who were pregnant after the age of 30 are at a higher risk.

Dense breast tissue: Dense breast tissue not only increases risk, but it also makes it more difficult for diagnosis with a traditional mammogramBeebe Healthcare offers both traditional (2D) and 3D mammography.

Gene Mutations: As much as 10% of breast cancers have been attributed to gene mutations.

Risk factors we can influence:

There are many lifestyle behaviors that we can change to lower our risk for a breast cancer diagnosis, as it is believed that a woman’s chance of being diagnosed increases with an increase in risk factors. 

Alcohol: Alcohol effects the body in numerous ways that can increase women’s risk for breast cancer. It can decrease the amount of folate in the body, raise estrogen levels, and add to increased weight gain. The American Cancer Society recommends that women have no more than 1 drink a day.

Obesity: Weight gain and increased body fat following menopause is considered to be a contributing factor to the increased rates of breast cancer as women age. 

Inactivity: Again and again we have seen that exercise is important to our overall health and wellness. Inactivity, which also can lead to obesity, is a risk factor for breast cancer, as well as for other health problems including heart disease and diabetes.

Hormone therapy: Taking the combination of estrogen and progestin as hormone replacement therapy in menopause is a risk factor, but we don’t know if taking birth control pills containing estrogen are also a risk factor. 

An ounce of prevention

Research is showing us that we can impact our risk factors for many chronic disease by practicing healthy lifestyles such as keeping physically active and eating healthy foods; by staying in contact with our health providers through checkups and screenings; and by calling our physician if something just doesn’t seem right.  This participatory behavior also is important for breast cancer.

*National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/risk-fact-sheet)

Other resources for breast cancer prevention and early detection:

National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-prevention-pdq#section/all

American Cancer Society:http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/breastcancerearlydetection/

New to the area? Need a physician, but you aren’t sure where to start? Beebe’s Women’s Health Nurse Navigator Carrie Snyder, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, is here to answer your questions. Call (844) 316-3330 or email womenshealth@beebehealthcare.org.