The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) most recent statistics cite that breast cancer in women dropped 40 percent from 1989 to 2016. That drop is thanks, in part, to groundbreaking research. But just as importantly, it’s due to prevention and early detection (including self-exam and mammography). In recent years, though, breast cancer rates have increased slightly by four percent, and it’s still the second leading cause of cancer death in women (second to lung cancer).
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Living a healthy lifestyle (all year ‘round!) can help to lower your breast cancer risk:
- Maintain a healthy weight through good nutrition and staying active. Excess weight increases your chances of developing breast cancer. Regular exercise will lower your risk by 10 to 20 percent!
- Limit alcoholic beverages. Drinking alcohol increases your breast cancer risk by seven to 12 percent, so keep it to no more than one cocktail per day.
- If you smoke, quit now. Smokers have a 12 percent higher risk of breast cancer — not to mention being at high risk for heart and lung diseases.
- Self-examine your breasts each month. Start early (in your 20s). Breast self-exam (BSE) gets you used to how your breasts look and feel. Women and men should see a doctor about any suspicious changes. While breast cancer in men is rare (about 100 times less common, compared to women), it’s important to be aware.
- Get a mammogram and clinical breast exam. The American Cancer Society now strongly recommends that women with an average risk of breast cancer have a mammogram and clinical breast exam every year, starting between age 40 and 45. If you’re age 55 and older, you can transition to an every-other-year screening, or stick with annual. Younger women should have clinical breast exams at least every three years. However, it’s vital (especially when it comes to mammography) to ask what your doctor advises for you.
- Talk to your doctor about your personal risk for breast cancer, given age, breast density, heredity, history, and lifestyle — especially if a close family member had breast or ovarian cancer, or if there are BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene changes (or mutations) that run in your family. These factors can increase lifetime risk from 15 to 25 percent. You can be tested with breast MRI screening (magnetic resonance imaging), in addition to mammography.
The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman’s death is roughly one in 38 (about 2.6 percent). The good news is that when found and treated early, many women can survive it. The more than 3.1 million survivors in the U.S. as of this year are living proof!
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano