Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month which provides a great opportunity to review, refresh, and expand your knowledge on breast cancer. Breast cancer largely affects women and if diagnosed in the early stages, it can be treatable. It is important to be aware of the risk factors and symptoms of breast cancer to be able to seek medical care as soon as possible when needed.
Breast cancer is the abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells in the breast. Left untreated the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is most common in older women and rarely affects anyone under the age of 40. However, it is still important to know the factors that can increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer.
The risk factors of developing breast cancer include:
- Age: being over the age of 40
- Genetics: BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, among other gene mutations
- Previous cancer history
- Radiation therapy
- Family history of cancer
- Being overweight
- High levels of alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise
- Poor, unhealthy diet
Though there are no exact actions that can be done to fully prevent breast cancer, there are some behaviors that can help reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Engaging in regular physical activity will help control your insulin levels which have an impact on your breast cell growth. In addition, exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight allowing for your body to also control your estrogen levels. High estrogen levels have been shown to increase your risk of breast cancer. There are also medications that women can take to help control their estrogen levels.
Another way to help you maintain a healthy weight is by eating healthy food. Diets high in fat and calories have been linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Food options such as vegetables, fruits, unprocessed/whole grains, and protein sources low in fat and sodium should be consumed regularly, allowing for your body to function more efficiently and properly.
Smoking and high levels of alcohol consumption have been linked to an increase of numerous cancers, including breast cancer. By limiting your alcohol intake and avoiding smoking you can help reduce your risk of breast cancer.
For individuals at high risk (previously had breast cancer, family history of breast cancer, gene mutation, radiation therapy), preventative surgery may be an option to consider. Preventative surgery can include the removal of one or both breasts (mastectomy).
Screening: Mammograms and Self-examination
Screening for breast cancer allows for doctors and medical professionals to monitor abnormal cell growth and potentially catch the cancer in the earlier, more treatable stages. The main type of screening used by medical professionals is mammograms. It is recommended that women start receiving mammograms at the age of 40. Women between the ages 40-54 should receive a mammogram once a year. Once they have reached the age of 55, women only need a mammogram every two years.
Self-examination is recommended to be done once a month but should NOT however replace a mammogram. Self-examination in combination with mammograms allows of an increase likelihood of early detection. Self-examination is the examination for any pain, lumps, or changes in breasts or breast area. Individuals should report any concerns or changes to their doctor.
For more information on self-examination and how to properly conduct a self-exam visit:
Race/Ethnicity impact on Breast Cancer
White women are more likely to develop breast cancer than women of other races. However, Black women do not have much lower rate of breast cancer and are more likely to be diagnosed with the more aggressive forms of breast cancer (triple negative breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer). In addition, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed in the later stages of their breast cancer. Black women have “a 40 percent higher death rate from breast cancer” than white women.
The leading cause of death among Hispanic women in the United States is breast cancer. The percentage of Hispanic women who get their regular mammogram is less than that of white women and black women. As well, women who only speak Spanish are less likely to get their regular mammogram.
Breast Cancer Screening Services at HSNT
Health Services of North Texas provides referrals for mammograms and breast examinations for their patients. Health Services of North Texas has bilingual medical professionals to help with any language barriers. In addition, they offer mammograms quarterly through Texas Health Resources for those who struggle to pay for mammograms. If you are interested in receiving a referral for a mammogram or have any concerns surrounding breast cancer or breast health, please make an appointment with your doctor at HSNT. Together we can raise more awareness on breast cancer.