Breast Cancer Prevention
By: Alexa Nicole Fiffick, DO, MBS • Posted on October 11, 2022
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this may cause you to start thinking about your personal risk of breast cancer. While we generally consider an increased risk of breast cancer to be completely out of our hands, like a familial genetic mutation, there are many ways you can limit your personal risk on your own.
6 Ways To Help Prevent Breast Cancer
In fact, it is estimated that 33% of all breast cancer cases are preventable! While the following recommendations may sound simple, staying healthy takes work. Let’s review these recommendations and the data behind them below.
1. Know Your Family
One of the biggest breast cancer risk factors is having a first or second-degree relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer less than 50 years old. This alone doubles the risk of breast cancer.
Pathogenic variants (or genetic mutations) in high-risk genes associated with breast cancer can increase the risk of breast cancer by up to 85%. This means that you need to learn all you can about your immediate and extended family to find out if anyone has ever tested positive for one of these genes; particularly if they have previously had breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate or colon cancer. If you find out from a family member that they carry one of these genetic mutations, talk to your family doctor or gynecologist so they can get you evaluated for genetic testing.
2. Get Your Screening
The American College of Gynecology (ACOG) and The National Cancer Care Network (NCCN) recommend breast exams by your clinician every 1-3 years starting at age 25. They increase this recommendation to yearly starting at age 40.
While the clinical breast exam is not as highly sensitive as once thought, recommendations are to continue getting these exams to assist in breast diagnostic imaging as well as catch certain cancers in earlier stages. ACOG and NCCN both recommend offering mammograms starting at age 40 in women of average risk. While some guidelines recommend starting later than this, there is a 20% reduction in death from breast cancer in those who start screening at age 40.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
According to the CDC, at least 1 out of 5 adults in the US are obese. Out of women older than 20 years of age, more than 41% of those women had a BMI in the obese range. Elevated BMI is directly linked to postmenopausal breast cancer risk and mortality.
A large study found that for each 11pounds gained during adulthood, the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer increases by 11%! In fact, obesity increases the risk of 11 different types of cancer:
- Endometrial (uterine)
- Gallbladder cancers
- Multiple myeloma
You might be asking yourself why obesity has such a negative impact on cancer risk. The answer lies in our body’s response to fat tissue. Fat tissue influences the production of inflammatory chemicals/hormones in our body that decrease the body’s ability to fight off cancer cells and can even increase the likelihood that DNA changes which promote cancer when cells divide.
4. Exercise Regularly
Physicians and researchers have been touting the good effects of exercise on the body for ages. It should come as no surprise that this applies to cancer prevention as much as heart disease and diabetes. The American Cancer Society recommends 30-60 minutes of moderate activity 5 days per week to reduce postmenopausal breast cancer.
5. Don’t use Tobacco Products
Smoke from tobacco products contains at least 70 different carcinogenic chemicals. Women who started smoking 10 years or more before the delivery of their first child have an 18% higher risk of breast cancer than those who have never smoked.
While some data shows that less than 10 years of smoking is not associated with increased breast cancer risk, it is recommended to never smoke.
6. Limit/Avoid Alcohol
According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol is a carcinogen that is attributable for 6% of all cancers. The cancers that can be attributed to alcohol use include:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Mouth cancer
- Throat cancer
- Voice box cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Liver cancer
- Stomach cancers
In fact, 12.1% of breast cancer cases and 11.3% of all breast cancer deaths can be linked to alcohol. Experts recommend complete avoidance of alcohol as there is no safe level of alcohol consumption regarding cancer risk.
Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!
Alexa Fiffick, DO, MBS
About Alexa Nicole Fiffick, DO, MBS
Dr. Alexa Nicole Fiffick is a Board Certified Family Medicine physician. She is a second year clinical Specialized Women’s Health Fellow at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women’s Health.
Dr. Fiffick was born and raised in Greater Cleveland, Ohio. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in Sociology with minors in Dance and Chemistry. She achieved a Master’s in Biomedical Science at The Commonwealth Medical College in 2013. She spent a year working in research at the Cleveland Clinic. Then, she went to medical school at Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, graduating in 2018.
Dr. Fiffick graduated from Doctors Hospital Family Medicine program for residency, with a certified focus on Women’s Health. She spent time working with underserved communities via Mobile Medicine in residency. Through this she fell in love with caring for underserved women and women in mid through later life.
breast cancer, breast cancer awareness, breast cancer awareness month, women's health, breast cancer risk, healthy living, breast cancer prevention, genetics, breast cancer screening, exercise, smoking, alcohol
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