5 Tips for Breast Cancer Prevention & Early Detection
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women, with one in eight women expected to develop the disease in their lifetime. An estimated 44,130 people will die from breast cancer this year, and metastatic breast cancer (or late-stage breast cancer) will cause the majority of those deaths. However, when breast cancer is detected early, women have a 93% or higher chance at survival for the first five years.
As a result, minimizing the risk of developing breast cancer, and/or catching breast cancer early in its progression, are crucial to preventing death from the disease. Here are five tips from MusiCares on the prevention and early detection of breast cancer.
About 5% to 10% of breast cancers are hereditary, meaning they are caused by abnormalities in inherited genes. For breast cancer, in particular, mutations in the BRCA gene – a gene that typically works as a tumor suppressor – can increase your risk of developing the disease.
Understanding your genetic risk of developing breast cancer can help determine what actions to take to minimize the chance of getting the disease. Fortunately, through genetic testing, it is possible to see whether or not you have mutations in your BRCA gene. To get tested, the CDC recommends discussing your family history of breast cancer with your doctor and asking them to refer you to a certified genetic counselor.
For more information on genetic testing for breast cancer, visit the CDC's website here.
Breast Cancer Screening
There are two types of breast cancer screenings available to women: mammograms and MRIs.
Mammograms, or breast x-rays, are recommended for women with an average risk of breast cancer. In a study of women diagnosed with breast cancer, those who had regular mammograms had a 60% lower risk of dying from the disease 10 years after diagnosis compared to women who did not have regular mammograms.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that women 50-years and older should get a mammogram every two years, and women between 40 and 49 should consult their doctor about the timing and frequency of mammograms.
For those at higher risk of breast cancer, breast MRIs can be used in combination with mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Breast MRIs can find some cancers not detected by a mammogram—however, they can also produce false-positive results, so the American Cancer Society only recommends this method for women at greater than average risk.
According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, 40 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed by women who felt a lump in their breast while performing a self-exam. While self-exams may not detect all tumors, the data supports that self-exams are still critical in the early detection of breast cancer.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends performing a self-exam once each month to check for abnormalities in breasts, including any lumps, thickening, swelling, or other changes. If a lump is found, schedule an appointment with a doctor, but don’t panic—eight in 10 lumps are non-cancerous.
For more information on performing a self-exam, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation's website here.
Yearly Clinical Exams
In addition to monthly self-exams, yearly clinical exams are also recommended for the early detection of breast cancer. A clinical breast exam is a physical test performed by a trained healthcare provider, such as a nurse practitioner or physician, typically at an annual check-up. The provider will feel your breasts, clavicle, and underarms to check for any abnormalities or changes. The National Cancer Comprehensive Network recommends women have clinical breast examinations annually beginning at age 25.
For more information on clinical breast exams, visit https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/clinical-breast-exam
Diet & Exercise
The American Cancer Society reports that many studies over the last twenty years have supported that physical activity is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Experts believe that physical activity can regulate certain hormones that, if left unregulated, can fuel breast cancer growth. It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week to effectively reduce cancer risk.
In addition, certain dietary habits have also been linked to reduced risk of breast cancer. Individuals who eat diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and carotenoids are at a lesser risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Additionally, individuals who consumed alcohol were more likely to develop breast cancer.