“Every woman needs to know her personal risk factors, the warning signs of breast cancer and the recommended screenings,” Dr. Coplin said. “Getting educated about breast cancer can help women catch breast cancer early or, even better, avoid it altogether.”
Things that May Increase Your Risk
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the main factors that influence breast cancer risk are 1) being a woman and 2) getting older. Other risk factors include:
- Mutations in breast cancer-related genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2)
- Having your first menstrual period before age 12
- Never giving birth, or being older than 35 when your first child was born
- Starting menopause after age 55
- Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone in menopause for more than five years
- Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
- A personal history of breast cancer, dense breasts or certain other breast problems
- A family history of breast cancer (parent, sibling or child)
- Getting radiation therapy to the breast or chest
- Being overweight, especially after menopause
Steps to Decrease Your Risk
You can’t change some of the factors that increase risk, but others you can control. Drs. Coplin and Wang have the following recommendations.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes per day.
- Eat a healthy diet, and avoid too much alcohol.
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid birth control pills if you are older than 35 or if you smoke.
- Breastfeed any children you may have for one year or more, if possible.
- If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
- If you are at high risk for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about taking tamoxifen or raloxifene, the only drugs approved in the United States to help lower breast cancer risk.
Be on the lookout for the following symptoms of breast cancer. If you have any signs that worry you, call your doctor right away.
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Pain in the breast
Breast cancer screening checks a woman’s breasts for cancer before she has any symptoms. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is advanced enough to feel or cause symptoms. Lake Regional Imaging Center provides 3-D mammograms, the most effective tool for diagnosing breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society provides the following breast cancer screening guidelines.
- Women between the ages of 40 and 44 should learn the risks and benefits of mammograms for breast cancer screening and make a choice about whether to be screened.
- Women aged 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to a mammogram every two years, or have the choice to continue annual screening.
- Women should continue to receive screening mammograms as long as their overall health is good and they have a life expectancy of 10 years or longer.
Join Dr. Coplin at “Breast Cancer Prevention, Detection and Treatment,” a free health talk at Lake Regional Hospital, 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15. Dr. Coplin will talk about risk factors for breast cancer, how to lower risk through diet and exercise, how to find breast cancer early, and treatment news. Participants also will be able to complete a breast cancer risk assessment. The tool uses a short series of questions to estimate a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer during the next five years. Register at lakeregional.com/beatbreastcancer.