While we typically recognize October as the designated month for breast cancer awareness, it’s important to remember the importance of year-round prevention and detection. There are a number of preventative measures women can take every day to decrease the risk of breast cancer, detect it earlier and increase their chance for survival.
Rather than re-aligning your breast cancer prevention efforts every October, take time throughout the year to practice the habits below. Not only will you reduce your risk of breast cancer, but you’re likely to improve other aspects of your physical and mental health as well.
From exercise and maintaining a healthy weight to reducing your alcohol intake, here are the best ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer year-round.
Get Annual Mammograms
The American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram for women ages 45 to 54 and encourages women ages 40 to 44 to begin screening earlier if they wish to do so. New technology has also made the traditionally uncomfortable mammogram much more convenient and comfortable.
3D mammography is both a more pleasant mammogram that is also less invasive and much more accurate. This technology detects smaller breast cancers than traditional mammography. This decreases the number of callback mammograms and unnecessary biopsies, which greatly relieves the anxiety associated with mammograms. With early diagnosis, survival rates for breast cancer can be dramatically increased. In addition to higher survival rates, early detection can result in nearly 80% of women having the option to retain their breasts.
Know Your Family History
Know your family history of any type of cancer for two to three previous generations and share it with your doctor. Thankfully today we have testing procedures and preventative measures our grandparents did not. For example, DNA testing now looks at 25 genes, instead of just two, to see how those genes interact with ones we know cause cancer.
Early detection can save your life. Learn more about lifesaving cancer screenings at Ochsner.org/cancer-screenings
Manage Your Weight & Exercise Often
More than one in 4 Louisianans qualify as obese. Not only does being overweight increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stress on your joints, but it also greatly increases your risk for breast cancer. Making healthier choices, managing your weight and exercising regularly all make for a better quality of life all around.
Obesity relates to cancer as fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen, which has been linked to increased instances of breast and ovarian cancer. Additionally, obesity is often associated with chronic low-level inflammation which can damage DNA cells over time and lead to cancer. Obesity has been shown to complicate or worsen several aspects of cancer survivorship, including cancer progression, recurrence, prognosis and quality of life. Meanwhile, studies have shown that even moderate exercise can help protect against approximately 13 different cancers.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Be aware of and manage your alcohol intake. It is generally agreed at this point that more than one alcoholic drink a day increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Women who drink between two to three alcoholic drinks per day have a 20% higher risk of breast cancer than women who don’t drink alcohol at all according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Alcohol affects how estrogen works within the body, which can cause levels to rise and have a similar negative impact as obesity.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Oct. 29th, 2015.