October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society reports the average risk for a woman in the United States developing breast cancer is about 13 percent.
While that number seems low, most people know someone who has or had breast cancer. Two risk factors – being female and aging – are unchangeable. However, people can do some things to reduce their risk of breast cancer.
- Get an annual mammogram starting at age 40. Mammography remains the gold standard for breast screening in women’s healthcare. A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast that allows doctors to look for changes in breast tissue. Regular mammograms have proven to be very effective in detecting cancer early when it’s most treatable.
- Practice breast self-awareness. It’s important for people to know their body’s healthy baseline because it makes it easier to notice when something doesn’t look or feel normal. This includes recognizing changes in the breasts that may signal something is wrong, such as lumps, thickening or hardened knots, changes in breast contour, swelling, dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples.
- Eat a healthy diet. No food or supplement specifically causes cancer or prevents cancer, but eating a healthy, low-fat diet can help maintain a healthy weight, which may reduce the risk of cancer. Avoiding or limiting alcohol can lower the risk of breast cancer as well.
- Exercise. Studies have shown that active women have a lower risk of cancer than inactive women.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, especially among women who started smoking in adolescence or who had a family history of the disease.
- Get genetic testing, if warranted. In the United States, between 5 and 10 percent of breast cancers are related to an inherited gene mutation. About half of these breast cancers are related to a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited gene mutation. While most women who get breast cancer do not have a gene mutation, talk to your doctor about genetic testing if there is a family history of breast cancer or someone with a known gene mutation in the family.