Staying current on breast health is a must for all women. We all share one huge risk factor for developing breast cancer – our two “X” chromosomes. Just being a woman puts a check mark on our risk factor list. And while you may be religious with regular breast exams and screening mammograms, staying current on new research is also important. Here are a few important breast health facts that you don’t want to miss.
1. A breast lump is usually NOT cancer.
For most women the thought of finding a breast lump, no matter how small, is terrifying. Breast cancer awareness campaigns encourage us to do self-checks, but when we do feel something different does this mean that we have breast cancer? Dr. Sandra Miller, MD, breast surgeon at The Christ Hospital says, “Most breast lumps are not cancer, particularly in younger women. Most breast lumps in premenopausal women are either cysts, benign tumors or sometimes, lumpy fibrocystic breast tissue. However, it can never be assumed that a new lump is not cancer, even when a woman has had many cysts in the past. A new lump in a postmenopausal woman who is not on hormone replacement therapy is more likely, but not always, a breast cancer.” Although most lumps are not cancer, having your doctor take a look at any breast changes is always a good idea.
2. Your physical activity level may impact your risk for breast cancer even more than if you smoke.
While a link between breast cancer and cigarette smoking has yet to be firmly established, body weight and activity level do seem to play a role in breast cancer risk. According to Dr. Miller, “There is definite evidence that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of breast cancer, and can reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer. A woman does not have to run a marathon to reduce her risk. Risk reduction is seen in women who walk 45 minutes, 3-4 times a week.”
3. Your father’s family history matters when assessing your risk for breast cancer.
Many women don’t realize that a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer on their dad’s side of the family can be a risk for them. When jotting down your family history make sure to get the details about both your mom and your dad’s families. Although gene mutations leading to breast cancer are uncommon, they do exist. Knowing your family history could allow you to take protective measures that prevent you from developing these types of breast cancer or help you catch a problem early on.
4. While your daily red wine may be heart healthy, it could increase your risk for breast cancer.
“There is a definite and consistent relationship between alcohol intake and the risk of breast cancer and the relationship is dose dependent,” says Dr. Miller. “Women who drink even a glass of alcohol (including a glass of wine) most days are at some increased risk of breast cancer although the increased risk is fairly small. The more alcohol a woman drinks though, the higher her risk, so that women who have 2-3 drinks most days have a higher risk than women who drink less.”
5. Mammograms can miss things – don’t ignore what your body is telling you.
Technology has revolutionized the medical world, breast cancer screening included. Mammograms are able to detect very small areas of cancer that a manual breast exam may never feel. And while a woman should follow the national breast screening guidelines, if she finds a concerning area on her breast, she should not ignore it even if she has had a normal mammogram recently. Even technology has its limitations, and there is the possibility that something could have been missed. Set up an appointment to have your doctor evaluate what you are seeing or feeling.
For years women were ashamed to talk about breast cancer. Powerful awareness campaigns have squelched much of that stigma, leading to education, screening and treatment. Today, most women diagnosed with breast cancer will live long and healthy lives. It’s up to us to continue to spread the word, learn about new research and come alongside those women who are struggling with the disease.