What you can do about breast cancer

Breast Cancer Cover Photo

This screening effort has contributed to a steady decline in BCA related deaths since 1989 from earlier detection. Having a mammogram does not prevent cancer, in fact, there is no known way to completely prevent breast cancer. However, annual mammography, along with performing monthly self breast exams to become familiar with your breast tissue, and having a professional clinician perform an annual breast exam; are the first steps in detection and diagnosis that is key to early treatment that can lead to a cure.  Lumps or tumors found in a mammogram are not always cancer. About 75-80% of them are common benign lumps, but in all cases further testing is needed to identify the 20-25% that are diagnosed as cancer. Breast changes that should alert you to make an appointment to have them checked include: finding a painless lump, changes in thickness, swelling, ulcers or sores, dimples, skin redness, scaliness, nipple changes or discharge.

In the United States, an estimated 232,670 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, resulting in an estimated 40,000 deaths. Your risk increases as you age from 1 in 203 women from birth to age 39, to 1 in 27 women from age 40-59, to 1 in 28 women from age 60-69. The overall lifetime risk is 1 in 8 women that will develop BCA.  You may be asking yourself, “What can I do it decreased my chances of developing breast cancer?”

There are many known risk factors for developing BCA, some of them you cannot change, like your family history or your age, but many of them you can modify by making simple healthy lifestyle choices that have shown overtime to decrease the likelihood of developing BCA. The key is to be aware of how your risk factors stack up; just knowing where you stand can guide you and your health care provider’s decisions on monitoring and screening that may make the difference in early diagnosis and treatment.

To review some of the risk factors, a basic understanding that an increase in BCA risk has been associated with an increase in the length of time a women has normal levels of estrogen exposure throughout her life.  This helps explain that your risk increases as you age, particularly if you had your first period before age 12 or went through menopause after age 55.  Increased estrogen exposure also results from never having been pregnant, having your first baby after age 30, not having full term pregnancies, breastfeeding less than 6 months, from taking estrogen-progestin hormone replacement therapy. Obesity, postmenopausal weight gain, diets low in calcium and vitamin D, alcohol consumption of three or more drinks a week, smoking, working night shifts, and sedentary lifestyle have all been associated with an increased risk of developing BCA.

A healthy lifestyle is the most proactive defense against the development of breast cancer. There are studies that have shown a protective benefit against breast cancer through regular moderate to vigorous physical exercise (up to a 25% risk reduction), a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy body weight (BMI 19-25). These three key lifestyle elements appear to work in tandem to protect against breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women.  Increasing physical activity has hormonal effects in the body that cause a reduction in blood levels of estrogen, insulin, and insulin growth factors; all of which have been associated with weight gain and increased breast cancer risk in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.  Physical activity recommendations are to maintain moderate intensity activity for at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week and to avoid sedentary behavior. 

Your best defense is to know your risks, to recognize breast changes early, and make rewarding lifestyle adjustments. A healthy lifestyle will not only protect you from developing breast cancer and other chronic diseases, but will increase physical energy, mental balance, and the personal rewards of a healthier, stronger body as you LiVe Well. 



American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts & Figures 2014.  Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/webcontent/acspc-042151.pdf

UpToDate Patient information: Factors that modify breast cancer risk in women (Beyond the Basics) 2014.  Retrieved from http://www.uptodate.com.xlibd1.intermountain.net/contents/factors-that-modify-breast-cancer-risk-in-women-beyond-the-basics?source=see_link