October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and while breast cancer is a scary thing to think about, it’s better to be “aware,” especially since the survival rate for breast cancer caught in Stage One is 100%. What else should you know about breast cancer to help keep you healthy?
Self-exams: “Research has shown that there are no significant benefits to doing monthly self-exams,” explains Therese B. Bevers, MD, medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “We don’t want to confine women to a specific technique, frequency or time—it’s more about your overall awareness.” But it can’t hurt!
Mammograms: When should you start getting screened? It’s a conversation every woman should have with her doctor, but you should know that many experts—including the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of 21 leading cancer centers—say mammograms should still start at age 40. If you have a strong family history (a first-degree relative, meaning a parent, sibling or child, who has developed breast cancer) or have tested positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, experts recommend beginning even sooner, usually 10 years earlier than the youngest family case, but not before age 25.
Sonograms: If you’re at higher risk or have very dense breasts, your doctor may recommend getting an ultrasound (also called a sonogram) along with your annual mammogram. “There’s a chance you’ll find something on an ultrasound that you wouldn’t see on a mammogram, but it’s not nearly as sensitive as getting an MRI,” says Dr. Bevers.
MRIs: Many cancer experts advise high-risk patients (those with a strong family history of cancer or a BRCA mutation) to get an annual MRI spaced 6 months apart from their annual mammogram. “MRIs are highly sensitive and can pick up cancers at a very early stage,” says Dr. Bevers. But they also have a high level of false positives, and the process itself (you lie perfectly still in a confining tube-shaped scanner) can be unsettling. Talk to your doctor about which screening method is most suitable for you.
6 Musts for Every Woman to Lower Her Risk of Breast Cancer
1. Stay at a healthy weight. Research shows that post-menopausal women who are obese are 1.5 times as likely to develop breast cancer as their normal-weight counterparts, and are at a significantly higher risk of dying from the disease. One potential reason is that fat tissue can produce estrogen. Too much of it raises your estrogen levels, thus increasing your risk of cancer.
2. Exercise. There’s a benefit to getting a move on, no matter what you weigh. Research from the National Cancer Institute shows that exercising four or more hours a week can decrease estrogen levels and in turn help lower breast cancer risk. Make your workout intense and your risk will decrease by as much as 30 percent.
3. Limit alcohol. There’s a well-defined link between drinking and breast cancer risk: The more alcohol you consume, the greater the danger. Women who have two to five alcoholic drinks a day have about 1.5 times the cancer risk of those who don’t drink any.
4. Know your family history. If your mother, grandmother or maternal aunt developed breast cancer at age 50 or earlier, you may carry the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2, which can place your lifetime risk of breast cancer at 60 percent (and your risk of ovarian cancer at 15 to 40 percent). Talk to your doctor about genetic testing and find out what protective actions you can take.
5. Eat healthy. Research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, whole grains and legumes is linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. A recent study also showed that women who carried the BRCA mutation and ate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables had up to a 73 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women with the mutation who didn’t eat their veggies.
6. Check your D levels. Although some experts say the link between vitamin D and breast cancer is uncertain, a few studies have highlighted a connection. One study found that higher levels of D meant a 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Another revealed that women who got a lot of vitamin D from diet, supplements or spending time outdoors were 25 to 45 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those with lower levels.
6 Things that Definitely Won’t Give You Cancer
1. Deodorant or Antiperspirant. Despite the persistent rumors, experts are unanimous in emphasizing that the stuff that keeps you dry won’t boost your risk. In fact, a 2002 epidemiologic study of about 1,600 women found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant or deodorant use.
2. Underwire bras. No clothing can increase your cancer risk.
3. Caffeine. Although it can make some breasts feel lumpier, multiple studies have shown that there’s no connection between caffeine consumption and cancer. In fact, a recent Harvard study found that women who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had the same risk of breast cancer as women who drank none.
4. Your yearly mammogram. The amount of radiation you receive from a mammogram is extremely small—about as much as you would get flying from New York to California in a commercial jet, according to the American Cancer Society.
5. Having big breasts. This is one area where size truly doesn’t matter. Anyone with breasts is at risk of developing cancer! However, if your breasts are dense—and they can be dense at any size—you may want to talk to your doctor about additional screening methods beyond mammograms. Up to 35 percent of breast cancer goes undetected by mammography, and this is most often a problem when breasts are very dense.
6. Breast implants. There’s no connection between surgical enhancement and cancer risk, says Cynara Coomer, MD, chief of breast surgery at Staten Island University Hospital and an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. But keep in mind that implants may make it more difficult for a radiologist to read your mammograms. “You may have to have more images taken, and it can be uncomfortable to move the implant out of the way during the mammogram.”
“I Found a Lump. Now What?”
1. Stay calm.
2. If you can stand to wait, go through your menstrual cycle, cut out the caffeine and see if the lump is still there in a couple of weeks.
3. Call your health care provider. You may be refered for a mammogram or sonograms but keep it mind that 80 percent of breast biopsies find benign lumps.
- Have you or anyone you’ve known battled breast cancer?
[Source: Yahoo! Health]