7 Ways to Keep Breast Cancer at Bay
Approximately one in eight women around the world will be diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Mili Arora, MD, an oncologist at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Despite this statistic, the overall incidence of breast cancer is decreasing—both in part due to better screening as well as better therapies for early stage disease.”
So, what’s your risk? And is there anything you can do to lower your chances of being diagnosed or having a relapse? With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, local doctors shared seven ways for you to take action now.
1. Know your family history.
In January 2018, there were 3.1 million women in the U.S. with a family history of breast cancer. It’s the most common cancer in women, second only to skin cancer, says Rashmi Ramasubbaiah, MD, an oncologist associated with Marshall Medical Center. “Talk to your family members and [have an open dialogue] about cancer,” she suggests. “Parents, siblings, and children are first-degree relatives; aunts, uncles, grandparents, and grandkids are second-degree relatives. Make a family tree. Ask specifically about cancers of breast, ovaries, prostate, stomach, thyroid, colon, sarcoma, uterus, and melanoma of the skin.”
2. Know your body.
The frequency of performing self-breast exams is somewhat controversial, Dr. Arora says. “That being said, the most important thing is that you do them! It should be a reminder for you to undergo clinical breast exams with your primary care provider.” Daniel Herron, MD, a diagnostic radiology specialist with Mercy Imaging Centers, wants you to recognize when your breasts change. “Instead of encouraging women to regularly examine their own breasts, it’s recommended that women become more aware of the normal appearance and feel of them. If a woman notices a mass, discharge from one of her nipples, dimpling or puckering of the skin, pulling in of the nipple, an area of redness, or new pain in part of a breast, she should notify her health care provider,” he says.
3. Get check-ups.
For women of average risk (meaning no family history of breast or ovarian cancer), annual screening mammograms are recommended for all women over 40 years old, Dr. Ramasubbaiah says. Kristie Bobolis, MD, medical director of Sutter Roseville Medical Center’s breast cancer program, says if there’s a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you should talk to your doctor about a more comprehensive risk assessment to see if you qualify for enhanced breast screening, including breast MRI scans.
4. Don’t ignore a lump.
Most of the time, breast lumps tend to be benign—only 15 percent are potentially cancerous—Dr. Ramasubbaiah says. If it persists and doesn’t go away within one week, get it checked. “It doesn't matter how old you are. If you feel a breast lump, please get it evaluated; additionally, look for change in contour of the breast, with new breast dimpling, nipple discharge, nipple retraction, redness of breast, or a lump under the armpit.”
5. Be aware of the odds.
Dr. Herron says the reason we recommend women begin testing for breast cancer after age 40 is because a woman in her 40s has a 1 in 68 chance of getting cancer. That changes to 1 in 43 in her 50s. The risk then gradually increases, with women in their 70s having a 1 in 26 chance of getting breast cancer.
6. Make healthy choices.
“We’re learning that one’s lifestyle does indeed have a connection to breast cancer,” says Ernie Bodai, MD, director of the Breast Cancer Survivorship Institute at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento. “Some of the more significant risk factors include being obese, eating unhealthily, and having a sedentary lifestyle.” The best way to minimize your risk is to live a healthy lifestyle, “Breast Cancer risk can be significantly reduced by adopting the 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine: healthy eating, active living, stress reduction, sleep hygiene, strengthening interpersonal relationships, and avoiding toxins,” says Dr. Bodai. “Some more recent findings also indicate the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome through diet. It appears that avoidance of animal and highly processed foods, while increasing fiber intake results in the promotion of a healthy gut.”
7. Stay active.
Exercise and sleep are both important for your health, which can be “as simple as walking 30 minutes a day for five days a week,” says Dr. Bodai. “We need to get adequate sleep, because being well-rested decreases stress, and stress is another promoter of inflammation and malignancy.” He also advises against tobacco use and suggests minimizing alcohol consumption.
By Kourtney Jason