October 18, 2023
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
As we continue to fight back against cancer, it is still vital to raise awareness and educate on the disease. While progress has been made, early detection is still the best defense against breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, with over 297,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2023 and one in every eight women will face the diagnosis in their lifetime. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths for women after lung cancer.
Understand your risk
There is no known way to prevent breast cancer completely. As a result, it is important to understand the risk factors that increase your chances of developing the disease:
Age: Risk increases with age — most cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 50.
Sex: Women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men.
Family history: If you have a close family member who has wrestled with the disease, your risk is increased.
Genetic mutations: Certain genetic mutations can increase your risk. Screenings can identify these mutations.
Personal history: If you have already had breast cancer in one breast, your risk of developing it in the other breast is increased.
Other risk factors: Other risk factors include breast density, early menstruation, late menopause, obesity, alcohol use and exposure to radiation.
Taking preventative action
Breast cancer can feel like the worst kind of waiting game – uncertain if the diagnosis will ever come, hoping it never does. Thankfully, there are several things each of us can do to reduce our risk:
Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity increases our risk, so it is important to maintain a healthy weight. The right nutrition plan could help!
Exercise regularly: Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol use is a significant risk factor. If you do choose to drink alcohol, the American Cancer Society recommends limiting yourself to one drink per day.
Get regular mammograms: Mammograms are vital for early detection. Here are some basic guidelines for screening.
- Age 40-44: Discuss screening with your provider annually
- Age 45-54: Get annual mammograms
- Age 55+: Get mammograms every 1 to 2 years, depending on your personal risk
Remember – each of us are unique. Have a conversation with your primary care provider so you can implement the best screening approach for your health history.
Busting up breast cancer myths
There is a lot of misinformation about breast health. Here are a few of the most common myths to help you separate fact from fiction:
Myth: Family history of breast cancer makes up the majority of cases.
Fact: A family history of breast cancer does place someone in a higher risk group. However, 90% of diagnoses are women who have no family history.
Myth: If you find a lump in your breast, you probably have breast cancer.
Fact: As you perform routine self-exams, you may find lumps. While lumps are common, they are rarely cancerous. If you discover a lump, do not ignore it. Instead, simply discuss it with your primary care provider.
Myth: Mammograms can cause or spread cancer.
Fact: The risk due to the minimal radiation of a mammogram is extremely low. Mammograms are the gold standard for detecting cancer early. Breast compression cannot cause or spread cancer.
If you have any concerns about your risk of breast cancer, talk to your doctor. They can help you to assess your risk so you can develop a plan to reduce your risk and detect cancer early.
If you are looking for resources for mammograms, diagnostic services or other breast cancer needs, you can find a free facility near you through the National Breast Cancer Foundation.