by Dr Nicole Sookhan
The most common cause of cancer in a woman is breast cancer. 1in 8 women will develop breast cancer over their lifetime. It is important to be mindful of our breast health. Early detection leads to early diagnosis and early treatment of breast cancer.
The risk factors for breast cancer are being overweight, lack of exercise, family history, never given birth, lack of breast feeding, dense breasts and increased alcohol consumption.
Being obese increases the risk of breast cancer because fat cells produces estrogen (the female hormone) which increases the risk for breast cancer.75% of women who developed breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer. 15% have a family member with breast cancer and 10% have a genetic mutation which predisposes them to developing breast cancer.
Genetic testing is now available to any woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Multi gene panel testing can test for mutations in certain genes linked to cancers such as breast, ovarian, uterine, colon, stomach, melanoma, pancreas and prostate in men. Dense breast tissue refers to the appearance of breast tissue on a mammogram. Breast tissue is comprised of fat (nondense tissue), milk ducts, milk glands and fibrous tissue (dense tissue). The more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue in a breast makes the breast tissue dense. Dense tissue looks white on a mammogram. A cancer can also look white on a mammogram. In a woman with dense breasts cancers can hide. A mammogram may miss a breast cancer in 40% of patients with dense breasts.
For a woman with dense breast tissue, supplemental breast imaging such as a breast ultrasound or breast MRI can increase the detection of cancers that may be hidden in the dense tissue. The development of the 3D mammogram or tomosynthesis scan combines multiple breast x-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of the breasts. This can help detect cancers in women with dense breast tissue.
In 2009 Governor, Jodi Rell, a breast cancer survivor signed a notification bill into law which allows a woman to be told if they have dense breasts on their mammogram report.
On March 28, 2019 the department of Health and Human Services, the FDA announced changes to the mammogram quality standards act to report dense breast tissue to the patient.
The American Society of breast surgeons recommends a woman with an average risk of breast cancer should initiate yearly screening mammogram at the age of 40 and continue as long as they are in good health. If there is a family history of breast cancer, screening mammograms will start at an earlier age.
Men can also get breast cancer. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. Alcohol consumption, being overweight, liver disease, genetic mutations and aging increases a man’s risk of developing breast cancer We must be aware of our bodies. If we notice a breast lump, skin thickening, breast rash, bloody nipple discharge, nipple indentation or lumps under the armpit you should contact your healthcare provider.
Lifestyle changes can decrease your risk of developing breast cancer. Studies have shown a plant-based diet decreases the risk of cancer. Decreasing the consumption of red meat and processed meat reduces the risk of cancer. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day can also lower the risk of breast cancer. Women who have 3 or more alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Reduction of alcohol consumption and smoking cessation decreases the risk of breast cancer. Finding a cancer early can lead to a better survival.
Dr Nicole Sookhan