Tips for Maintaining Breast Health
As we mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, Cara Guilfoyle, MD, a specialized breast cancer surgeon with Steward Health Care discusses the importance of screening and steps women can take for their best breast health.
Q: October is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. How do you encourage patients to be mindful of breast health now and throughout the year?
I always encourage patients to be aware of their breast health. I recommend they perform monthly self-breast exams and to look for any changes in the breasts such as rashes, redness, swelling, nipple changes/discharge, or dimpling.
Q: What effect has the COVID-19 pandemic had on breast cancer screenings and what will the long-range effect of the COVID-19 pandemic be on women’s health, in particular their breast health?
Unfortunately, there has been a decrease in screening exams performed secondary to the COVID pandemic. As a result, oncologic providers are expecting a surge in the diagnosis of more advanced breast cancers. We encourage anyone who needs a screening to schedule it. Breast imaging services have been diligent about social distancing and mask wearing in order to create a safe, friendly environment for patients presenting for their breast imaging.
Q: What are the current recommended guidelines for breast cancer screening and diagnosis?
For an average risk woman, the current recommended guidelines include clinical breast exam every 1-3 years from ages 25 to 40. Beginning at the age of 40 we recommend annual screening 3D mammograms and an annual clinical breast exam.
Q: What is a 3D mammogram?
A 3D mammogram is also called Tomosynthesis. It is a type of mammogram that gives us a better picture of the breasts and overcomes some of the limitations of conventional mammograms. Not all imaging centers offer 3D mammograms, so make sure when you go for your mammogram, that you are getting a 3D mammogram.
Q: How significant a role does heredity play in whether someone may develop breast cancer?
About 10% of all breast cancers are due to inherited genetic mutations, that means that least 90% of people with breast cancer do not have a genetic mutation. 15-20% can be familial, meaning it runs in the family but is not due to an obvious genetic mutation, and 70%, the vast majority, are sporadic, meaning there is no link with family history. So ultimately, the chances that you are carrying a genetic mutation, even if you have breast cancer, are very low.
- What if I think I might be at high risk for breast cancer?
If you have a family history for breast cancer, then I recommend you ask your doctor to perform a breast cancer risk assessment which can estimate your % lifetime risk for developing breast cancer. Some of the parameters that can increase your risk for breast cancer include getting your period at an early age, late menopause, having children at a later age, alcohol use, not breastfeeding, having dense breast tissue, having a family history of breast cancer, and having prior abnormal breast biopsies. If the risk comes back greater than 20%, then you can qualify for a high-risk screening protocol. This can include adding screening breast MRI’s, alternating with screening mammograms every 6 months, every 6-month clinical breast exams, and chemoprevention with Tamoxifen.
Five Tips for Staying Healthy and Reducing Potential Incidence of Breast Cancer
- Take part in 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week; exceeding the upper limit is optimal.
- Alcoholic drinks increase the risk for breast cancer and are best avoided; patients who choose to drink alcohol should limit their consumption to no more than one drink equivalent per day.
- Evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy body weight helps reduce breast cancer risk.
- The use of hormone supplementation, especially combined estrogen/ progesterone agents ≥3–5 year’s can be associated with increased risk for breast cancer.
- Breast feeding can reduce your risk for breast cancer
If you need to schedule an appointment with your provider, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.
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