October is breast cancer awareness month – a perfect time to learn about the prevention, risk factors, and screening methods. Breast cancer affects many people. Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. Most cases of breast cancer are found in women over the age of 50, but younger women are also affected by breast cancer. About 11% of new cases of breast cancer are found in women younger than 45 years of age. Very rarely, breast cancer is also found in men.
The earlier breast cancer is identified, the better chance a person has at beating it. The good news is that there are several kinds of screening tests available for the early detection of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women start getting yearly mammograms (an x-ray of the breast) starting at age 40 and continue doing so long as they’re in good health. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early — sometimes up to three years before it can be felt.
The ACS also recommends that, starting at age 40, women have regular clinical breast exams (CBE). Women who are in their 20’s and 30’s are recommended to get a CBE every three or so years. Breast self-exams are also an option for women starting in their 20’s. Work with your primary care provider to decide which screening tests to have and how often. Recommendations may vary depending on age, lifestyle factors, family, and individual health history.
US Family Health Plan would like to encourage women aged 40 and over to have a conversation about breast cancer screening with their primary care provider. As part of the USFHP benefit, all breast cancer-screening tests are covered with no copay.
Most women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors and no history of the disease in their families; however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are certain characteristics that may increase your chances of getting breast cancer. These include:
- Getting older.
- Being younger when you first had your menstrual period.
- Starting menopause at a later age.
- Being older at the birth of your first child.
- Never giving birth.
- Not breastfeeding.
- Personal history of breast cancer or some non-cancerous breast diseases.
- Family history of breast cancer (mother, sister, daughter).
- Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest.
- Being overweight.
- Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone combined).
- Having changes in the breast cancer-related genes BRCA1 or BRCA2.
- Drinking alcohol (more than one drink a day).
- Not getting regular exercise.
Remember, the most important things you can do to decrease your chances of getting any kind of cancer, including breast cancer, are to stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight, move more, and make healthier food choices. Combining healthy lifestyle decisions with preventive screening is the best way to live a healthy life!