This time of year, our patients are inundated with pink merchandise, eye-catching slogans, and messaging about “breast cancer awareness.” But as much as Breast Cancer Awareness Month has done to raise public concern about this disease, we as women’s health specialists often wonder what “awareness” really means, and what good it does for our patients.
The team at Genesis Women’s Health and Gynecology believes that in order for breast cancer awareness to be effective, it needs to translate into detection and prevention: real steps women can take to regularly check in and catch the signs of breast cancer before the illness becomes advanced and treatment becomes more difficult.
We want to empower our patients with all the facts concerning breast cancer and breast cancer prevention, and to go beyond simple awareness. Here is our guide to understanding breast cancer, communicating with your doctor, and properly caring for yourself:
What is Breast Cancer?
As is the case for all cancers, breast cancer is a disease in which your body’s cells begin to grow abnormally and form a tumor, specifically in the breast. Different parts of the breast can become affected, causing different types of cancers with different symptoms. If left untreated, breast cancer can spread to other body parts.
Do Diet and Lifestyle Affect Risk?
Studies have shown that diet and lifestyle choices can affect your risk of breast cancer both positively and negatively. Smoking is shown to make patients 24% more likely to be diagnosed than non-smokers, and patients who drink more than three alcoholic beverages a week increase their risk to 15%. Looking for positive dietary changes to help prevent cancer? Some foods that decrease the risk of breast cancer include:
- A variety of fruits and veggies that includes greens.
- Low-fat dairy products and healthy oils, especially extra virgin olive oil.
- Soybean-based foods.
- Foods rich in vitamin D and antioxidants.
Staying active is also key to breast cancer prevention - the American Cancer Society recommends “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week” to help keep your body healthy.
What Are Some Other Risks?
Hormonal treatments, including hormone replacement therapy and some birth control methods, can increase the risk for breast cancer. While all women have some risk of developing breast cancer, some cancers are related to a genetic mutation. Please let your doctor know about relatives with a history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Why Are Breast Cancer Self Exams Important?
Performing a breast cancer self exam is essential to detecting early symptoms of breast cancer and beginning treatment as soon as possible - according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 40% of diagnosed breast cancers were detected when women felt a lump. Self exams can also help you familiarize yourself with how your body naturally looks and feels, making it easier to tell when something is wrong. Self exams should be performed at least once a month; if you’re wondering how to do a self breast exam, check out the steps on this helpful chart. Important note: not every lump you may find in your breast is undoubtedly cancer. Many of these masses are benign and can be easily removed, making clinical breast exams an essential next step after detection.
Do I Need a Mammogram?
Yes! Our women’s health center recommends that all women begin scheduling mammograms from the time they are 40. Although most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older breast cancer can also affect younger women. About 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age, .
Mammograms are currently the best tool available for doctors to detect breast cancer early, sometimes even three years before it can be felt in a physical exam. We recommend a yearly mammogram starting at 40 years of age. Because mammograms can miss approximately 15% of all breast cancers, we also recommend that you come in for a breast exam yearly.
Breast cancer prevention and detection are a group effort between you and your women’s health clinic. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the team at Genesis Women’s encourages you to be vigilant, stay educated, and make your health a priority before cancer strikes.
Still have questions this Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Dr. Waltrip and the team at Genesis Women’s Health are always here to answer questions and help you stay vigilant in preventing and detecting breast cancer. If you’re ready to reach out, either as a new or existing patient, please request an appointment at (724) 488-4963, or via our practice’s Patient Portal.