What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer Risk and Prevention
Welcome to October, which is also Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you do a quick search on the internet, you’ll find plenty of information about risks and prevention. This post is designed to give you the highlights of that information. Feel free to use this as a launching point for a deeper dive.
The information for this post comes from the American Cancer Society. They break down risks into three groups:
- Factors you cannot change
- Factors with unclear effects
Lifestyle-related are risk factors that we can help control, if they are personal behaviors. These include: drinking alcohol, being overweight, and not being physically active. Other factors, that you may or may not have control over, are the birth control you take, not having children, not breastfeeding, breast implants, and menopausal hormone therapy.
Factors you cannot change, but knowing what they are may provide motivation to be proactive in your screenings. These factors include: being born female, getting older, inheriting certain gene changes, a family history of breast cancer, personally having breast cancer, race and ethnicity, being taller, dense breast tissue, certain benign breast conditions, starting periods early, going through menopause later, having radiation to your chest, and exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES).
Finally, factors with unclear effects are things that may be risk factors, but the research is still unclear. They include: diet and vitamins, environmental chemicals, tobacco smoke, and night shift work.
When looking at risk factors, you may find that you have one or many. This does not mean you will get breast cancer, they are factors that increase your chances.
While there are no proven ways to prevent breast cancer, there are things you can do that might lower your risk. For example, review the risk factors that you can control and change as many as possible, like being more active or staying at a healthy weight.
Other preventative options include being vigilant with screenings, both personally and through mammograms and other imaging options. For some, you may want to look at genetic testing. And in some cases, where you are at a very high risk of breast cancer, you may choose preventative surgery, but know that this is typically an option for a small fraction of women.
Also, while the research is not yet complete in this area, eating a healthy diet that is high in vegetables, fruit, and calcium-rich dairy products, and low in red and processed meats may help lower your risks and has the added benefit of supporting a healthy body. Eating a well-balanced diet makes sense for preventative reasons, as well as a general life decision.
While there are no guarantees with breast cancer, reducing your number of risk factors may help you avoid this disease or at least help lower the risk of dying from the disease. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health. Give yourself the best chance at a long, fulfilling life by eating well, moving your body, and getting screened.