Know your risk, control your risk: Be proactive to beat breast cancer

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The color pink has become a common sight every October. Alongside jack-o-lanterns, pink might be one of the month’s most defining sights as more and more organizations sport the color in some way every autumn. But it isn’t about fashion, or how pink brings out the colors of the changing leaves or anything like that; it’s about spreading breast cancer awareness. It’s about saving lives.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when health care providers remind everyone about the importance of getting screened for breast cancer with a mammogram. Getting screened when you need to is the number one thing you can do to deal with cancer.

“Be aware of your own risk and be consistent in your screening, because screening means earlier diagnosis and better odds of survival,” said Thelma Baker, the director of oncology services for the Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center.

Certain genes increase the risk for breast cancer, Baker said. If you have a history of cancer diagnosed under the age of 50, multiple family members with cancer or a family member with more than one type of cancer, you may have an elevated risk.

There can be a big difference in the amount of risk people have, so it’s vital for everyone to understand their own personal risk. That may mean getting genetic testing to look for markers that put you at high risk. Between five and 10 percent of cancers are linked to a gene mutation, so when you receive a mammogram at OSF Saint Anthony, you will be offered a genetic risk assessment. If you meet any of those genetic factors, you should speak with your primary care provider about your risk.

In general, OSF HealthCare encourages all women, starting at age 40, to speak with their health care provider about when to start getting screened for breast cancer, and how often they should do it. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, you may want to begin having that conversation earlier.

Controlling your risk factors

In addition to getting screened, there are things you can do to control your own risk. Peggy Rogers, APRN, specializes in high-risk cancer genetics and medical oncology at the Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care, and she endorses the following guidelines set by the American Cancer Society:

  • Limit alcohol consumption to an average of less than one drink per day.
  • Exercise regularly: either 2.5 hours of moderate exercise weekly or 1.5 hours of vigorous exercise weekly.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
    • Limit your calories.
    • Minimize sweetened foods and beverages, as well as fatty or fried foods.
    • Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
    • Minimize red meat and processed meat in your diet. Instead, increase the amount of fish and poultry in your diet.
  • Find and maintain your optimal weight through menopause and avoid prolonged combination hormone replacement therapy after the menopause.
  • Avoid smoking.

Breast cancer is still a serious health threat. One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their life, Baker said. That has decreased over the years as increased awareness leads to more screenings, leading to earlier diagnoses and better outcomes for patients.

Survivor rates are going up as new treatments are developed and diagnostic imaging improves, with more detailed and more accurate 3-D imaging replacing the traditional 2-D mammograms.

However, breast cancer still has the second highest death rate in the U.S., second only to lung cancer. So, speak to your provider about your breast cancer risk, and get screened if it’s recommended. OSF HealthCare has the latest technology for identifying breast cancer, and the Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care boasts a world-class team and facility that serves people at every step of their cancer journey, from diagnosis to treatment to rehabilitation and recovery.

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Cancer, Preventive Health, Women's Health