Breast Cancer: Are You At Risk?
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, throughout October we’ll be posting a series of stories about breast cancer prevention, treatment and survivors.
Approximately one in eight women in the United States will get breast cancer during her lifetime. In fact, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, after skin cancer. So what can you do about it?
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Certain personal, family history or lifestyle factors can increase your risk of getting breast cancer. These risk factors include:
- Having a mother, sister or daughter who had breast cancer
- Inherited gene defects such as the Breast Cancer (BRACA) 1 and 2 genes
- Prior biopsies showing precancerous findings
- Dense breast tissue, as shown on a mammogram
- Being overweight or obese after menopause
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Hormone replacement treatment for longer than five years
“It’s important for every woman to know that although certain factors can increase your risk for developing breast cancer, most women who get it have no risk factors at all,” says Harriet Borofsky, M.D., medical director of Mills-Peninsula’s Women’s Center. “The main risk factors for developing breast cancer are having breasts and getting older.”
What You Can Do
Changes in our DNA cause normal breast cells to become cancerous. Currently scientists don’t know what triggers these mutations in our cells, so there’s no definitive way to prevent breast cancer.
You may be able to lower your risk of getting breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, especially as you get older, and limiting alcohol consumption. Some studies have also shown that breastfeeding for several months may lower your risk as well as limiting hormone replacement therapy after menopause.
“A healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet, a healthy weight and regular exercise is definitely important for overall good health and preventing disease,” says Dr. Borofsky. “But regular screenings and early detection are really the way to go.”
Although the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force no longer recommends routine yearly mammograms for women over 40, you should discuss your screening options annually with your doctor. Learn more in Mills-Peninsula’s Health Maintenance Guidelines.
“Studies show that deaths from breast cancer are significantly reduced through screening,” says Dr. Borofsky. “In addition, early detection means that the cancer can be caught early when treatment is most successful.”
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