Did you know that breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer? In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that 246,660 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year alone. Ari Brooks, MD, Cancer Surgeon and Director of the Integrated Breast Center at Pennsylvania Hospital states that “Breast Cancer is the most common cancer among women in the USA.”
Fortunately, there is some good news: as a whole, the number of breast cancer diagnoses and related deaths has been on a gradual decline in the last 16 years. The reasons? Earlier diagnoses and treatments that have been effective in helping to put a stop to breast cancer before it has time to spread and cause significant damage. Dr. Brooks explains, “Your individual risk for developing breast cancer is a made up of a variety of risk factors, some you can’t fix (like your age, your family history, or having dense breasts) and some you can fix.”
Steps to Help Prevent Breast Cancer
Here, Dr. Brooks recommends some steps to help you prevent developing breast cancer in the future.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
One of the most important things a person can do to help prevent breast cancer is to maintain a healthy weight. Dr. Brooks recommends that women should “get regular exercise, at least 20 minutes 3 times a week” to help them to maintain a healthy weight and to stay fit. Having a lean figure is crucial since fat is made up of cells that produce estrogen. Too much estrogen in the body can cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers to develop and grow. Simply put, the more fat cells in your body, the more estrogen and the higher the risk of developing breast cancer. By eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet and exercising regularly, you can help to maintain a healthy weight.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
There’s no denying that alcohol has many negative health effects attached to it. However, most people associate liver failure and liver cancer with alcohol. While alcohol has been proven to have some of the most adverse effects on the liver, it has also been proven to increase your risk of developing breast cancer. This is due to the fact that alcohol has the ability to change how your body works to metabolize estrogen. When alcohol is consumed on a regular basis it can result in higher levels of estrogen in the body. When estrogen levels are unusually high it may cause breast cancer. Dr. Brooks recommends that women should “keep it to less than 2 glasses a week to reduce their cancer risk”.
Get an Annual Mammogram
There’s no denying that mammograms are important for helping to detect breast cancer in its early stages. The earlier you detect it, the better your chances are of successfully treating it. “As always, for women with average risk, we advocate mammogram screenings every year starting at age 40,” says Dr. Brooks. Mammograms are now offered in more locations than ever before and individuals who can’t afford them can often find a free or low-cost option through our own Penn Breast Health Initiative. Simply put, there’s no excuse for women not to receive mammograms.
“If you do smoke, please stop!”, Dr. Brooks cautions. There’s no denying that smoking is bad for your health and is often linked to lung cancer, lung disease, and a host of other health problems. When it comes to breast cancer, smoking may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. However, smoking is especially dangerous for women who continue to smoke after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Smoking has been proven to significantly reduce a woman’s chance of surviving breast cancer if they continue to smoke post-diagnosis.
Understand Your Risks and Make an Appointment for Genetic Counseling if Appropriate
While researchers may never know the exact cause of breast cancer, they do know the main risks and triggers of it. Among the list one of the top risk factors is having a high level of estrogen. The amount of estrogen your body produces is largely influenced by your genetics. This is one possible reason why women who have a first-degree relative(mother or sister) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer are two to three times more likely to develop the disease themselves.
Some differences in your genes are linked to cancer. While this does not automatically mean that you have cancer, it does put you at a significantly higher risk of developing it in the future. This is why genetic counseling is so important; it can help individuals to better understand their risks and to seek treatment. Speak with your primary care physician or gynecologist for more information on making a genetic counseling appointment.
In the past, genetic counseling wasn’t widely available to all patients, especially if they lived in a rural area. However, Penn Medicine has recently worked to partner with several community hospitals to offer patients genetic counseling resources right in the comfort and convenience of their own community hospital. Through Penn Medicine’s Telegenetics Program, patients can talk to a genetic counselor through a video conference or phone. Their counselor will speak with them about their risk for developing cancer based on their family history and other factors. The patient may then elect to have genetic testing performed to further understand their risks and develop a preventative treatment plan to help lower their risk of developing breast cancer.
This October, don’t just wear pink for breast cancer awareness; gain control of your health by taking these preventive steps to ensure you stay healthy and free of breast cancer.