Knowing a few simple things about your family history will help you and your healthcare provider decide whether you’re at any higher risk, which probably will mean that you need to be screened earlier or more often than average. A family history of breast cancer doesn’t mean you have the genetic mutation or that you are going to get breast cancer, but it’s certainly something you should talk over with your healthcare provider.
You can build a family tree and get closer to assessing your risk by using MyGenerations from The Center for Medical Genetics.
Certain risk factors have little to do with your family and everything to do with your lifestyle. You can reduce your risk of breast cancer if you:
- Stop smoking.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Fat stores estrogen, which feeds certain tumors. Women who are overweight are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- Exercise. Getting at least 20 minutes per day of moderate exercise like walking has all kinds of health benefits, and because it helps you maintain a healthy weight, it reduces your breast cancer risk, too.
- Limit your alcohol intake. The more you drink, the higher your risk for developing breast cancer. Try to stick to no more than one drink per day.
- Take vitamin D. Research seems to show that taking vitamin D may lower your risk of breast cancer. Talk to your doctor before you add any supplements to your diet.
Detecting breast cancer early gives you the best chance of recovering. How do you detect it early? Through self exams and mammograms.
I recognize that the official word on breast self exams has changed, but I’m in the office with women every day, and I know that enough of them find their own lumps to make self exams worth the five minutes they demand once a month. Nobody knows your breasts like you do, and so no one is better equipped to detect a change than you are. If you are still having your monthly period, then get in the habit of checking your breasts right after your period is over. If you are menopausal or have had a hysterectomy, give yourself an exam each month on your birthdate.
And if you find a lump? Report it immediately. Don’t take “it’s nothing” or “you’re too young for breast cancer” for an answer. Every lump should be evaluated. True — most of the time, a lump is not cancer. But for those times that it is, early intervention is critical.
If you’re 40 or older, you should be getting a mammogram every year. Ask for a digital mammogram to get clearer, more reliable results. (St.Vincent uses only digital mammography. You can find a list of our sites here.) But please, just get the thing — it’s no night out with the girls, but it’s 20 minutes that can make a big difference in your health.
If you have questions about your risk of breast cancer — or any other health concern — call 317-338-4-HER to talk to a registered nurse or use this form to talk to me directly.