What every woman should know about preventing breast cancer

October 04, 2023 | by Joseph Furlin, MD

Breast cancer seems like something other people get, until it happens to someone you know (or yourself).

While the overall risk for breast cancer among women in the United States is 13 percent, or 1 in 8, it can occur in people who don’t even have risk factors for the disease.

Two main risk factors for breast cancer are universal: being a woman and getting older.

Other risk factors women can’t control include a family history of breast cancer, having dense breasts, and having inherited mutations to genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.

But there are some things people can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer, including:

  • Get an annual mammogram. Mammography remains the gold standard for breast screening in women’s healthcare. Every woman should begin to receive annual mammograms at age 40. A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast that allows doctors to look for changes in breast tissue. Regular mammograms have proven to be very effective in detecting cancer early, when it’s most treatable.

Some women avoid mammograms, for various reasons. But in the long run, yearly mammograms are one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from breast cancer.

  • Be self-aware. It’s important for people to know their body’s healthy baseline because it makes it easier to notice when something doesn’t look or feel normal. This includes doing regular breast self-exams and recognizing changes in the breasts that may signal something is wrong, such as lumps, thickening or hardened knots, changes in breast contour, swelling, dimpling of the skin or changes in the nipples.
  • Eat healthy. No food or supplement specifically causes cancer or prevents cancer, but eating a healthy, low-fat diet can help with maintaining a healthy weight, which may reduce the risk of cancer. Avoiding or limiting alcohol can lower the risk of breast cancer as well.
  • Exercise. Studies have shown that physically active women have a lower risk of cancer than inactive women. Maintaining a healthy weight also lowers your risk for breast cancer, and exercise can help with that.
  • Stop smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, especially among women who started smoking in adolescence or who have a family history of the disease.
  • Ask about genetic testing. In the United States, between 5 and 10 percent of breast cancers are related to an inherited gene mutation. About half of these breast cancers are related to a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation. While most women who get breast cancer do not have a gene mutation, talk to your doctor about genetic testing if there is a family history of breast cancer or someone with a known gene mutation in the family.

Joseph Furlin, MD, is an OB/GYN with Edward-Elmhurst Medical Group. View his profile and schedule an appointment online.

Learn more about breast health or schedule your screening mammogram today.

We were there for that and we’re here for everything else. At Edward-Elmhurst Medical Group, with providers in 30 specialties from pediatrics to orthopedics to internal medicine, we believe that better relationships lead to better care. Here, it’s personal. Because we take the time to get to know you. Find the perfect doctor.

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