On average, women in the U.S. have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American women after skin cancer.
Aging women are at the greatest risk of developing breast cancer, with the majority of diagnoses occurring after age 50. There are some risk factors that you cannot change, while others are within your control.
Some of the risk factors you can’t control:
- Certain genetic mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2)
- Higher breast density
- Previous history of breast cancer
- First-degree relative with breast cancer (mother, sister, or daughter)
Some of the risk factors you can control:
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Taking certain hormones
Just because you meet some of the criteria does not guarantee you will get breast cancer, but it does mean that it’s important to get regularly screened by your doctor.
Ways to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk
There is no absolute way to prevent breast cancer. However, there are actions that may help to reduce your risk or aid in early detection. For example, maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle is one of the most important steps you can take to mitigate your risk of breast cancer.
Here are some other actions you can take:
- Eat a healthy diet. Fill your plate with a combination of proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. You can use the MyPlate Plan to determine how many calories you should strive for based on your individual needs.
- Stay physically active. Taking a walk with a friend or family member for 30 minutes a day, five days a week could help you reach this goal. Modifications could include walking in place. Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
- Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation. Limit alcohol to two drinks a day or less for men and one drink a day or less for women, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Ask your doctor about the risks of new medications or treatments. Discuss any risks associated with recommended treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy.
Breast Examinations that Aid in Early Detection
Breast health screenings at home and by your doctor can help in the early detection and prevention of breast cancer.
Once a month, conduct a breast self-exam. If you haven’t experienced menopause yet, pick a time toward the end of your menstrual period. If you have already gone through menopause, pick any consistent day and time each month that works best for you (e.g. the 1st or 15th of every month). Conduct the self-exam by following these steps from John Hopkins Medicine.
During the self-exam, feel and look for:
- Breast lumps
- Sore spots
- Changes in your skin’s appearance
- Nipple discharge
If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Get a Mammogram
Women ages 50 to 74 years old with an average risk for breast cancer should get a mammogram every two years, advises the United States Preventative Services Task Force. This can help in early detection when breast cancer is easier to treat. Many health insurance plans will cover mammograms every one to two years for women starting at age 40, at no cost to them.
By being proactive, you can be your own best health advocate in the fight against breast cancer.