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How can I prevent breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States (after certain types of skin cancers). While advances in treatment have greatly improved survival rates from breast cancer, we still lose over 42,000 women each year to breast cancer in the US. Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. It is incredibly important to ensure that all women and especially Black women have access to accurate information and health services to help understand and reduce their risk of cancer as well as improve the likelihood that cancer is caught early enough to be cured.

Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Age older than 50

  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer

  • Personal history of breast cancer and certain other breast diseases

  • Exposure to the medication diethylstilbestrol (DES) either by taking this medication or through in utero exposure if your mother took this medication during pregnancy

  • Having dense breasts (dense breast tissue can make it harder to catch breast cancer on a mammogram)

  • Reproductive history: menstrual periods starting before age 12, menopause after age 55, having your first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can increase breast cancer risk.

These risk factors are not under our control, but there are lifestyle modifications that can help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Some lifestyle modifications that can help reduce the risk of breast cancer include:

  • Increase physical activity: at least 150 minutes of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity each week is important for overall health and can reduce the risk of cancer

  • Limit alcohol intake: the risk of breast cancer increases the more alcohol one drinks

  • Eat a balanced diet: diets rich in fruits and vegetables, fiber, and plant-based unsaturated fats support a healthy metabolism and help limit excess weight gain that can contribute to increased cancer risk

  • Take care with hormone supplementation: using birth control pills (particularly triphasic oral contraceptives) or combined hormone replacement therapy in menopause may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. However, it is possible to use these medications safely and they have many other benefits. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of any hormone treatment for your individual situation with your doctor.

While we can reduce our risk of breast cancer, we cannot always prevent it entirely. This is why regular screening is important to catch breast cancers at an earlier stage when they are easier to treat and cure. It is important to be familiar with your own breasts so that if there are any changes, you can seek care with your doctor right away. Regular mammograms are recommended no later than age 50, but you should talk to your doctor about when they recommend that you start getting mammograms based on your personal health history and risk factors.

At Vida Family Medicine we offer comprehensive women's health care for all ages. We take preventive healthcare seriously and create a personalized plan for you based on your health history and risk factors. Visit our website to learn more about becoming a patient and to schedule your preventive health exam today!

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