Here’s a pop quiz:
1. Are you a woman?
2. Do you keep getting older?
If you said yes to both, then yes, my friend, you are at risk for breast cancer. Understanding which risk factors you cannot control empowers you to take a stronger stance on what you can control. You should know these facts, so let’s start with the risk factors you can’t do anything about.
THE TOP 8 UNCONTROLLABLE RISK FACTORS FOR BREAST CANCER
Being female: One in 8 (12.5 PERCENT) women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.
Aging: The older you get, the higher your risk. One in 234 women will be diagnosed by 35 years old; by 65, the rate increases to 1 in 28.
Race: Whites have the highest breast cancer rates, but African Americans and American Indians are more likely to die from it.
Menstruation/menopause: The earlier you started monthly periods, and the later in life you stopped, the higher your risk.
Pregnancy: Having your first baby after 30 years old, or having never been pregnant, increases risk.
Personal history of breast cancer: There’s usually a 10 percent recurrence risk in the breast you had cancer in, and 1 percent per year for the opposite breast (20 percent chance in 20 years).
Family history: Especially if your have first-degree relatives (mother, sister) who developed cancer pre-menopausally.
BRCA: This inherited genetic mutation increases lifetime risk up to 85 percent.
Now, the good news. You can prevent breast cancer–to the best of your ability–when you recognize risk factors you can control, and then adjust your life choices accordingly.
THE TOP 8 TIPS FOR STOPPING BREAST CANCER BEFORE IT STARTS
Reduce alcohol: Keeping your alcohol intake to seven or fewer drinks per week helps your heart and won’t hurt your breasts. Two drinks per day increases your risk 30 percent over that of a teetotaler; add 10 percent increased risk per additional daily drink.
Increase folate: If you do drink, be sure to take the supplement folic acid (600 micrograms per day), to fight against the alcohol-induced increase in breast cancer risk.
Lose weight: Overweight and obese women (body mass index over 25) have a 50 percent to 250 percent increase in risk over normal-weight women. Lose weight and you’ll also shed some of your risk!
Get more exercise: Getting in three to four hours a week at moderate to vigorous levels reduces risk. Get moving!
Eat better: Think high-fiber and low-fat; veggies and vitamins; and lean meat and other sources of protein.
Know the risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT): For every 10,000 women taking HRT (yes, even the bio-identical kind), eight preventable breast cancers occur. Understand your personal risks versus benefits before popping that pill.
Consider medication: For those at seriously high risk (where their lifetime risk is greater than 20 percent), it’s probably worth considering the anti-estrogen pills Tamoxifen and Evista; they do have undesirable side effects, but absolutely reduce risk by at least 50 percent. Two aspirin or ibuprofen a week for over five years reduces breast cancer by 21 percent.
Get your mammograms: I know they hurt. I know there’s radiation. But mammograms save lives. If every woman over 50 got her mammogram every year, the breast cancer death rate would drop 35 percent. Start at 35 years old, and always ask for digital mammograms.
Limit the uncontrollable by arming yourself with knowledge, and taking steps toward early detection and prevention.
Wishing you the “breast” of health always!
Kristi Funk, M.D., is director of patient education and a surgical breast specialist at the Saul and Joyce Brandman Breast Center, A Project of Women’s Guild, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles. For more on Dr. Funk, go to www.pinklotusmedical.com.
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