Health Partners: Be Equipped for Empowered Health at Any Age Part 2

March 5, 2024

The content below is provided by Riverside Cancer Care Network, a sponsor of H4TG’s A Calendar to Live By/Guide to Caring for Yourself.

Understand your risk for breast cancer.

Risk factors are conditions, characteristics or behaviors that increase your chances for developing a disease. Many risk factors for breast cancer are out of our control. These include gender, age, genes, family history, dense breast tissue, ethnicity, and previous personal history of breast cancer. 

Have a conversation with your health care provider about your risk factors at an early age. If you are at higher risk, your health care provider may recommend a higher level of screening, possibly starting at an earlier age.

You are at higher risk of developing breast cancer if:

  • You have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. When you have more than one family member diagnosed, you are at even higher risk. In these cases, your health care provider may refer you to a genetic counselor for genetic testing.
  • You have a family history of other cancers in addition to breast cancer (such as prostate, pancreatic, stomach, uterine, thyroid, colon or melanoma).
  • You have a gene mutation inherited from a parent. About 5–10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.
  • Someone in your family has had male breast cancer.
  • You have used hormonal contraceptives (this slightly increases risk, but risk returns to normal 10 years after stopping oral contraceptives) or post-menopausal hormone therapy.
  • You have more frequent menstrual cycles, developed your menstrual period at an earlier age, do not have children, have never breastfed, had children later in life (after age 30) or experienced delayed menopause (after age 50). All of these factors increase risk because of an increased exposure to estrogen.
  • You have a personal history of breast biopsies or atypical findings on a biopsy. Certain benign breast conditions can raise your breast cancer risk.
  • You are of a particular race or ethnicity. Black women have a higher chance of developing breast cancer before the age of 40 compared to White women. At every age, Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than any other race or ethnic group. White and Asian Pacific Islander women are more likely to be diagnosed with localized breast cancer than Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native women. 
  • You have dense breast tissue.
  • You’ve had radiation therapy to the chest for conditions other than breast cancer.

There are other risk factors within your control that can lower your risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Stop smoking/vaping.
  • Breastfeed.
  • Weigh the benefits of hormone replacement therapy after menopause.

For women who are at high risk, you can lower your risk with:

  • More frequent screening at a younger age, at least 10 years before the earliest age that a family member was diagnosed or 40 years old, whichever is earlier, alternating mammograms with breast MRIs every six months
  • Anti-estrogen medicines
  • Risk-reducing surgery, which can reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 97%

For women at average risk of breast cancer (no family history or increased risk), you should:

  • Have your first clinical breast exam beginning at age 25.
  • Schedule your first mammogram when you turn 40. Consider 3D mammography, also known as tomosynthesis.
  • Remember that breast self-awareness is important at all ages. 

Don’t let anxiety about heightened risk cause a delay in evaluation and screening.

When you know that you are at higher risk, or you’re close to the age when a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer, you may delay screening or reporting changes due to fear of what may be found. That’s understandable. However, while it can be scary, it can be scarier to wait. The earlier a cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. 

Take steps to empower yourself and others!

Because outcomes are improved when breast cancer is found at an early, more treatable stage, women can play a vital part in their own health at any age by taking the steps above. Living a healthy lifestyle, prioritizing yourself, knowing your risk, being familiar with signs and symptoms, staying attuned to your body, getting screened and talking with your health care provider — while encouraging others to do the same — are paramount in winning the fight against breast cancer.



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