HCA Midwest Health - January 13, 2020

According to Breastcancer.org, approximately one in eight women in the U.S. (around 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her life. Other than skin cancer, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in U.S. women. Although not preventable, there are ways a woman can reduce her risk of breast cancer.

“Many risk factors are modifiable and have a positive impact on other determinants of health,” says board-certified medical oncologist Stephanie Graff, MD, director of the breast program at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health and associate director of the breast cancer research program at Sarah Cannon Research Institute. “It’s important for women to educate themselves about risks and changes you can make to lower them.”

“I regularly meet people who believe if they don’t have a family history that they can’t get breast cancer (untrue!) – and I still have patients who know they have a significant risk, but don’t understand there are steps they can take to promote early detection or reduce their risk.”

What are breast cancer risk factors?

Your risk of developing breast cancer is impacted by a number of factors, some of which you have no control over such as gender, age or genetic factors. There are other lifestyle-related risk factors, however, that can be modified to lower your risk.

Risk factors you can’t change

  • Being female
  • Aging
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Inherited genetic predisposition
  • Age of first period
  • Age at menopause
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Past exposure to radiation for previous cancer treatments or acne

Modifiable risk factors

  • Being overweight
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Not exercising
  • Delaying or not having children
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Hormone replacement therapy or birth control methods with hormones

Understanding your breast cancer risk

Understanding your risk for breast cancer starts with a conversation with your doctor about factors in your life that may make you more susceptible to breast cancer, or taking an online risk assessment such as that offered by Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health.

“Every woman should have her breast cancer risk assessed,” stresses Dr. Graff. “Risk assessment is as easy as answering some basic health history questions at the time of your mammography, after which they are incorporated into risk assessment calculators like the Gail Risk Model or the Tyrer-Cuzick Risk model that analyze the information and calculate your risk. If a patient has questions about family history, a breast cancer risk reduction specialist can always answer their questions.”

Genetic counseling and testing may also be components of breast cancer risk assessment, Dr. Graff adds, particularly for women with a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer or Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Lower your risk, better your odds

Knowledge is power

Early detection remains our most effective weapon against breast cancer, with annual screening mammograms our best method of detection in most cases. Monthly breast self-exam is also an important practice. Current guidelines call for annual mammograms in women beginning at age 40 who have average risk. Today both 2D and 3D mammograms are available, with 3D detecting slightly more cancers than the traditional 2D. If you have other risk factors, such as dense breast tissue or a family history, your physician or breast clinician may recommend additional screenings, such as MRI or ultrasound and possibly other risk reduction medical treatments.

“Talking with your provider about your risk factors will help determine the best screening plan for you,” says Dr. Graff.

Take steps for better breast health

Taking charge of your health can be the best first step in reducing your risk of breast cancer. If you have non-modifiable risk factors, it’s more important than ever to control those you can modify.

“Overall, maintaining an active lifestyle, being close to your ideal body weight, minimizing alcohol use, and not smoking can all reduce breast cancer risk,” says Dr. Graff. “Obesity is currently the number one modifiable risk factor for breast cancer in the United States, so any lifestyle changes that move a patient closer to a healthy weight have a significant impact on her breast cancer risk.”

Risk reduction steps:

  • Stay active. Research shows a link between exercising regularly at a moderate or intense level and a lower risk of breast cancer.
  • Limit alcohol. Even a little alcohol can increase your risk of breast cancer. If you drink, do so moderately, no more than one drink per day.
  • Family planning. If you are planning to have children, consider nursing for breast health as well as baby’s nutritional benefits.
  • Discuss hormone replacement therapy or use with your physician to weigh the risks versus benefits.

We take the steps with you

The Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health is doing its part to educate women on their breast cancer risk and providing the information you need to make your best health decisions. The new B4C: Early Action Breast program, available at Centerpoint Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center, is offered to women who are seen for a mammogram. This program offers a complete breast-cancer risk assessment coordinated by board-certified genetic counselors. This is a deep dive into your individual risk numbers by the experts. If you’re found to be at higher-than-usual risk of breast cancer, you may be offered genetic testing, additional breast screening or even the latest preventive steps to block early tumor development. The goal of the whole program is to make sure you have a full understanding of your personal risk and your options for controlling that risk.

tags: breast cancer , t4b