National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked by a pervasive presence of pink and campaigns by national and local organizations, serves as a reminder for all communities to be more aware of prevention, early detection, research and support in the fight against breast cancer. There are many risk factors that women cannot avoid, such as family history and genetics, older age, dense breasts and being white. However, people can make certain decisions or adopt behaviors that lower their risk. These are defined as preventative measures. While research into cancer prevention is ongoing, here are a few areas that are being studied, according to the National Cancer Institute: • Changing lifestyles and/or eating habits • Limiting exposure to cancer-causing entities • Using medicine to treat a precancerous condition or prevent cancer
Addressing risk factors
Certain habits, such as drinking and smoking, should be limited or avoided altogether. Women also should avoid exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, known as carcinogens such as air, water and soil pollution and cigarette smoke, or those that interfere with the body’s normal functions, according to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure to radiation from medical imaging tests also should be limited, unless it is medically necessary. Additionally, women who are taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy should speak with a doctor about the associated risks.
Good habits for women to adopt include breastfeeding their babies, if possible; exercising regularly; keeping a healthy weight; and getting sufficient nighttime sleep.
“Staying healthy throughout your life will lower your risk of developing cancer, and improve your chances of surviving cancer if it occurs,” the CDC states.
One of the most important aspects of cancer treatment is early detection. While a mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer, this screening has benefits as well as limitations. For instance, according to the CDC, harms include false positive test results and undue radiation exposure.
The CDC recommends women be familiar with how their breasts feel and look, which will help them notice “symptoms such as lumps, pain, or changes in size that may be of concern.”
The National Cancer Institute provides an online interactive Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool to help women estimate their risk of developing invasive breast cancer. The tool is updated periodically as new research is made available.
(Sources: “Breast Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)–Patient Version” National Cancer Institute. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)