Although October is the month most closely associated with breast cancer and breast cancer awareness in the U.S., the disease can strike at any time throughout the year. In 2012, it is expected that more than 207,000 women and 2,300 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Awareness and education are critical because no one is immune from developing breast cancer. A common source of confusion on this topic is often incorrect and inflammatory information available on the Internet. Many people believe that if they read it on the Internet, it must be true. It’s essential to understand what’s accurate and what’s not when it comes to breast health education on the Internet. Simply put, it boils down to becoming an informed patient.
Currently, there is no known cure for breast cancer. And, while there are factors that we can change to reduce our risk, there are also factors that we cannot change. First, let’s review some factors that increase the risk of breast cancer that we cannot change:
Gender: The numbers speak for themselves. Women are more likely to get breast cancer than men.
Age: As women age, the risk of developing breast cancer is higher.
Family History: Close relatives who have been diagnosed (especially at an early age).
Genetics: Possessing cancer-related genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2).
Personal History: The previous diagnosis of breast cancer – women who have had cancer in one breast are more likely to develop it in the other breast or in the remaining breast tissue. Women who have a history of certain types of benign (non-cancerous) tumors and cysts in their breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer as are women with dense breast tissue.
Hormonal Factors: Start of menstruation at a young age, start menopause at a late age, have their first child later in life, or have not had full-term pregnancies.
Not Breastfeeding: Not being breastfed increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
Hormone Use: Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy increases risk. However, women who have not used hormone replacement therapy in the past 10 years may not be at increased risk.
Ionizing Radiation: Exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation to the chest area early in life, such as radiation therapy for Hodgkin lymphoma.
Now, let’s take a look at lifestyle factors, the things that we can change. Although the focus regarding breast cancer awareness is primarily on women, men should understand and become familiar with the factors as well. Many of the following recommendations are for men and women:
Mammograms: Get a mammogram, starting at age 40, or earlier, if a first-degree relative (mother, sister, etc.) has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Weight: Keep your weight in check.
Focus on a Plant-Based Diet: Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fiber.
Exercise: According to one study, women who exercise on average 10-19 hours each week saw a 30 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer.
Smoking: Don’t smoke!
Limit Alcohol Consumption: The more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk.
Finally, know your family history. Although it falls under the category of factors we cannot change, genetic testing may prove to be invaluable and potentially lifesaving. Between 20 and 30 percent of those who develop the disease have a family history of breast cancer.
Searching for additional information on the Internet? Stick with medically accredited, reputable websites such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute for accurate, scientifically supported and objective information. Additional resources and services are also available at a number of support organization websites, such as A Silver Lining Foundation. Remember, the Internet is a good resource to start, but it’s important to schedule annual check-ups with your physician, who can answer your questions and concerns.