Image by Angiola Harry

October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Tracy Hansen, APRN, FNP

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s talk about screenings and what you can do to minimize your risk! Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women, with over 250,000 new cases annually. Early detection is of the essence, and mammography is the best tool we have to screen for breast cancer.

You will find many differing opinions on when to initiate breast cancer screenings with mammography. The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests women at average risk of breast cancer risk may start annual mammogram screening beginning at age 40, women from ages 45-54 should be screened annually, while those over age 55 may continue with annual exams or every other year exams. To further clarify, average risk denotes a woman without personal or family history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation which increases risk of breast cancer. Women with higher than average risk may initiate breast cancer screening with mammography or other tools sooner than age 40.

You may be thinking to yourself: what about clinical breast exams (the one your provider does) or self-breast exams (the one you do)? What role do they play in breast cancer detection? ACS, writes current research as failed to demonstrate any benefit to either clinical or self-breast exams when annual screening mammograms are done. So, in short; they are not recommended. What is important is be aware of your breasts; how they look and feel. If you notice any changes then you should notify your health provider as soon as possible.

So, what can you do to minimize your risk of breast cancer? ACS lists lifestyle factors that have been found to be associated with breast cancer. Adapting the following lifestyle choices may decrease your chances of developing the disease.

1. Limit Alcohol Consumption: There is a very clear link between alcohol and breast cancer risk. Drinking 2-3 drinks per day can increased your risk of developing breast cancer by approximately 20%. ACS recommends women do not drink over 1 drink per day.

2. Maintain a health weight: There is an association between being overweight or obese and increased risk of breast cancer. ACS recommends maintaining a healthy weight throughout one’s life via balancing physical activity and food intake.

3. Being Physically Active: Current evidence suggestions regular physical activity decreases breast cancer risk. ACS recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.

Murray County Medical Center recommends all women regardless of age receive an annual health maintenance exam. At the visit we can discuss any concerns for your health you may have, in addition to screenings such as mammography and when they would be right for you.

For more information on breast cancer screenings and lifestyle factors visit: www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer