By: Dr. Catherine Diebold
Fall will soon be here. We are all looking forward to cooler weather and more opportunities to be active and get outdoors. Fall also brings National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The month of October is dedicated to increasing breast cancer awareness in women and hopefully to inspiring women to be proactive and get their mammograms.
Breast cancer is diagnosed in 1 in 8 women in the United States. It is the second most common cancer in women. The good news is that the combination of a yearly breast exam by your doctor/gynecologist and a mammogram – an x-ray screening test for breast cancer – can help find breast cancer at an early stage. That means it’s easier to treat and survive the disease!
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
Science has identified certain factors which can increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. If a person has one or more risk factors, however, it doesn’t mean she will get the disease. Some factors are linked to lifestyle and can be changed others, however, are not.
Non-lifestyle risk factors (Not Changeable)
Gender: Females get breast cancer 100 times more often than men.
Age: As a woman gets older- her risk increases. Only 7% of breast cancers occur in women under age 40. Most are found in women older than age 55.
Race and ethnicity: Breast cancer is more common in white
women. African-American have a lower risk of disease compared to white women, but an increased risk of dying from the disease. Asian, Hispanic and Native-American women have a lower risk of breast cancer.
Family history: Only 15% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a first degree relative with the disease.
A woman’s risk for breast cancer increases if her mother/sister/daughter has breast cancer. One relative doubles the risk, while two relatives would triple the risk. A father or brother with breast cancer may also increase risk-but in an uncertain fashion.
Genetic risk factors: Most women do not have a genetic
mutation or hereditary type of breast cancer. Only 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to involve the most common genetic mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with a strong family history of breast cancer, especially in women younger than age 50, a blood test can be done to check for these mutations.
Dense breast tissue: When women are younger, they may have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue in the breast. This shows up as “dense breasts” on mammograms. Dense breast tissue can make it harder to see developing cancers on a mammogram, thus a woman’s risk increases 1.2-2 times compared to someone with average breast density.
Personal history of breast cancer: Once a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, her chances are increased of developing a new cancer in the same or opposite breast.
Menstrual periods: An early menarche (1st period before age 12) and a late menopause (last period after age 55) increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer. This may be due to a longer natural period of hormone exposure.
Childbearing: Later childbearing (after age 30) or not having children at all increases a woman’s risk. Having many children at younger ages may decrease a woman’s risk.
Lifestyle-related factors (Changeable)
Drinking alcohol: Having more than 1 drink daily may increase risk by 1.5 times compared to nondrinkers or having only 1 drink a day.
Overweight or obesity: When a person is overweight or obese, they have an increased percent body fat. Fat cells have enzyme factories, which can convert other hormones in the post-menopausal body into estrogen, leading to a hormonal imbalance. Also, overweight and obese women typically have higher insulin levels due to the dietary choices being made. Both of these elevated hormones have been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer in post-menopausal women.
Physical activity: Studies have revealed that a minimum of 30 min of walking 5 days a week may decrease risk for breast cancer.
Smoking, high fat diets and toxins In the environments may also contribute to increasing breast cancer risk. Based on other cancer risk studies, it is a good idea to avoid these risk factors as well.
Hormones and Birth Control Pills: Studies have varied the risk based on the type and length of use of these medications. The best idea is to discuss these medications with your doctor.
What can you do about it?
Have a yearly breast/wellness exam by your doctor, and schedule a yearly mammogram after age forty to help detect problems at an early phase and optimize survival. At that visit, your doctor can review your personal risk factors. If you are at an increased risk, a plan can be devised for additional testing or even modifying one’s lifestyle and adding medications that may be able to reduce your risk. Self-breast examination can also be discussed and explained.
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a chance to make a difference in your loved one’s life! Start a conversation with your mother/sisters/aunts/grandmothers/friends/neighbors and colleagues about mammograms and yearly breast exams. Let’s all work together to increase breast cancer awareness and increase the opportunity for early detection and greater survival!
Dr. Catherine Diebold is a board certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist. She is also certified in Age Management Medicine by Cenegenics and AMMG. She has an office in Thibodaux, LA. To make an appointment, please call 985-448-1216.