Breast Cancer: Reducing Risk and Understanding Screening Methods
One in eight women living in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. As the most common form of cancer among American women, the chance a woman will die from the disease is one in 37. This risk has increased over the last four decades, making early detection and prevention methods critical.
A breast cancer diagnosis is due in part to uncontrollable risk factors and generally increases with age. Women, specifically non-Hispanic white women, will experience an increased risk between the ages of 65 and 84.
Family history and personal characteristics can also lead to higher risk among men and women. Women with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who have been diagnosed are twice as likely to develop breast cancer themselves; however, the majority of women who are diagnosed do not have a family history. Inherited genetic mutations are linked to 5-10 percent of all female cases, 5-20 percent of all male cases and 15-20 percent of all familial cases.
While there are several risk factors that are beyond control, approximately one-third of postmenopausal breast cancer diagnoses are thought to be linked to modifiable lifestyle behaviors. Here are some ways you can help lower your risk:
- Maintain a healthy weight. The risk of breast cancer is 1.5 times higher in overweight women. An increase in fat tissue, the leading source of estrogen in postmenopausal women, leads to an overabundance in estrogen levels. Weight gain in older women increases risks by 11 percent for every 11 pounds.
- Get active. Living an active lifestyle can decrease risk of breast cancer by 10-20 percent. Intense physical activity has been shown to provide the greatest risk reduction, but even walking can be beneficial. The American Cancer Society found women were able to lower their risk by 14 percent by walking seven or more hours per week.
- Incorporate a healthy diet. Recent studies show diets high in fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Micronutrients found in these foods lead to an increase of carotenoids, which act as antioxidants and fight cellular damage in blood levels.
- Avoid alcohol. Women who have one alcoholic drink a day show a 10 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Women who drink 2-3 times a day increase their risk by almost 20 percent.
In addition to lifestyle changes, most doctors encourage women to participate in regular screenings. The American Cancer Society recommends women undergo an annual mammography screening beginning at age 45. A breast self-exam is also recommended for women to become familiar with their breasts’ appearance and feel. Contact your physician immediately if you experience any unfamiliar lumps in or around your breast, recurring breast pain, change in size or shape, or any skin changes or swelling on your breast.