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As we've discussed in previous blog posts, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women in the United States. Sadly, every woman is at risk of developing breast cancer, and there is no true way to prevent it; however, there are ways to reduce your risks.
1. Know Your Risk Factors
Though there is no way to prevent breast cancer, doctors say you can reduce your risk. While you may not be able to change some risk factors, such as age, family history, genetics, or prior history of breast cancer, you can change risk factors related to lifestyle. Diet, exercise and alcohol consumption are within your control. The best defense against breast cancer is to be aware of your risk factors, and take steps to change those you can, along with regular breast cancer screenings.
2. Know Your Family History
Women with a family history of breast cancer are at an increased risk of developing the disease. If breast cancer does run in your family, be sure to inform your doctor, so they can determine how often you need to be screened.
3. Consider Genetic Counseling
Genetic counseling is highly recommended for women who have a family history of breast cancer. Women who inherit a genetic mutation of BRAC1 or BRAC2 genes are at an increased risk of developing both breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The BRAC genes belong to a class known as tumor suppressors; however, when those genes are mutated, they are strongly associated with hereditary breast cancer and other cancers.
4. Understand Hormonal Factors
A number of hormonal factors can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Early menstruation and late menopause, women who have had miscarriages, and hormone replacement therapy seem to increase the risk of breast cancer. Women who give birth at a younger age, as well as those that breastfeed, seems to have a lower risk. Studies show that women are also at a higher risk of breast cancer if they are exposed to higher or prolonged levels of estrogen.
5. Limit the Consumption of Alcohol
Women who drink alcohol every day put themselves at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. There is no safe amount of alcohol when it comes to breast cancer.
6. Exercise & Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight and exercise regimen can help lower your risk of breast cancer. Following a low fat diet and exercising regularly can help you lose weight and stay healthy. Women who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of breast cancer.
7. Always Check Yourself
Know your breasts. Many changes occur in a woman's breasts throughout her lifetime. For instance, monthly menstrual cycles, pregnancy, breastfeeding and age are all factors that can change a woman's breasts. Doctors recommend becoming familiar with what is normal for you, and to examine yourself frequently. During or after pregnancy, for example, women should be aware of the normal changes that occur, so that they are more aware of abnormal changes. Pain, swelling, and color changes are likely to occur after pregnancy, but size changes, such as one breast growing larger than the other, should immediately be checked.
8. Stay Informed
Breast cancer research is growing every day, especially in regards to advancements in diagnosis and treatment, and discoveries regarding risk factors. The more you are informed, the better you can protect yourself from developing breast cancer, and the better prepared you will be if you receive a breast cancer diagnosis.
9. Prioritize Breast Cancer Screenings
Early diagnosis is key in successfully treating breast cancer. Yearly mammograms and clinical screenings should be given, and continue for as along as a woman is in good health. For women with dense breasts, a mammogram may be difficult to detect anything, therefore, a sonogram or MRI may be recommended. No matter what testing is recommended, it's imperative to make breast cancer screenings a priority.
10. Be Persistent
Be an advocate for your health. While breast cancer isn't fairly common in younger women, that doesn't mean that it cannot happen. Doctors sometimes dismiss the concern because of age; however, if a young woman feels something is wrong, she should be persistent. Even if you don't feel a lump, but are experiencing other symptoms, such as unexplained pain, nipple discharge, or just don't feel right, insist on getting checked further, or find a new doctor who will listen to your concerns.