October is officially Breast Cancer Awareness month, but breast cancer is something women should be aware of all year long. Early detection through regular well-woman exams by a doctor, self examination, and recommended screenings is very important, and education and awareness have greatly helped the number of cases being caught early, increasing the success of treatment. Now more attention is being paid to what we can do to prevent breast cancer. Research is showing that living a healthy lifestyle is an important part of prevention. No one knows why some women get breast cancer, but there are a number of risk factors.
Risks that you cannot change include:
- Age - the chance of getting breast cancer rises as a woman gets older.
- Genes - there are two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that greatly increase the risk. Women who have family members with breast or ovarian cancer may wish to be tested.
- Personal factors - beginning periods before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55 increase the risk.
Other risks include:
- Being overweight
- Using hormone replacement therapy
- Taking birth control pills
- Drinking alcohol
- Not having children or having your first child after age 35
- Having dense breasts.
You can help lower your risk of breast cancer in the following ways:
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly (at least four hours a week).
- Get enough sleep.
- Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer.
- Try to reduce your exposure to radiation during medical tests like mammograms, X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans.
- If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
- Breastfeed your babies, if possible.
Talk to Dr. Strebel or Dr. Grolle at your next appointment about your breast cancer risk. Make sure you are getting the recommended screenings for your situation, and discuss what you can do to lower your risk.