Reducing the Risk of Breast Cancer

Among health campaigns, none is quite so recognizable as the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. More than 230,000 women in the United States are diagnosed annually, making breast cancer the most common cancer for women and support for the disease even more crucial. The pink ribbons not only give breast cancer survivors and patients hope, but also remind family and friends to come together in the battle against the disease.

For women, tests can be intimidating, but early diagnosis and treatment is the key to surviving breast cancer. Today, the causes of breast cancer are still under investigation, but reducing the risk is improved by knowing the symptoms and factors, both genetic and lifestyle, which increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Sometimes these factors present as definitive links to breast cancer while other factors ties are less than conclusive.

Genetic Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

There are several known genetic factors which can increase the risk for breast cancer. While men do get breast cancer it is much more common in women. Aging is also a genetic factor in breast cancer, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend mammograms every two years for women over the age of 50. Heredity and family history also plays a role in breast cancer risk. Women who have close relatives have a higher risk of developing the disease. Breast density and gene mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes) can also increase the risk for breast cancer.

Lifestyle Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Multiple lifestyle factors increase the chances of developing breast cancer including heavy alcohol consumption and obesity in post-menopausal women. Women who began menstruation at a young age are at a higher risk as are women whose became pregnant later in life or experienced later menopause.

Prevention of Breast Cancer

Some studies have shown that exercise and physical activity provides some protection against the development of breast cancer. Understanding these risk factors and monitoring based on them can lead to early detection and treatment.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Breast self-examination can often detect a breast mass while others are discovered during a physician’s routine breast examination. Knowing the proper way to self-check allows individuals to detect irregularities in the breast compared to what is normal. Any change in the size of the breast or new and irregular symmetry should be examined by a physician. Breast lumps can be soft, hard, fixed, or mobile; some are painful to the touch while others are painless. Nipple discharge, redness, or retraction, as well as skin changes should be examined by a medical provider. If an irregularity or mass is found, there is a screening test available to detect early signs of breast cancer.

During a screening examination, if anything abnormal is detected, the physician will order further studies which might include a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI. Following imaging studies, a breast biopsy would be performed for a proper diagnosis.

Treatment and Support for Breast Cancer

When diagnosed with breast cancer, the physician and medical care team will meet with you to discuss the best options for treatment, possible side effects, and timelines. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to gain a better understanding of your options, or ask for a second opinion regarding your diagnosis and treatment. Remember your physician and his or her team are ready to answer your questions and offer you support before, during, and following your treatment.

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