How does menstrual and reproductive history affect breast cancer risk?

Women who are at higher risk include those who:

– Began their menstrual cycle before age 12
– Started menopause after age 55
– Have had no biological children
– Had their first child at age 30 or after

Research has shown that the number of menstrual cycles a woman has affects her risk for breast cancer.

Does a nutritious diet help prevent breast cancer?

Yes. Having a diet low in fat (30 grams a day or less) while incorporating plenty of fruits, as well as green and orange vegetables can help with reducing the risk of breast cancer. However, a diet high in fat can increase the risk of breast cancer since fat activates estrogen release which encourages tumor growth.

Does smoking cause breast cancer?

Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of cancer. Research shows that smoking is a contributing factor to developing breast cancer. Even second-hand smoke is considered a risk factor. If you are a smoker you can reduce your risk significantly by quitting.

Does alcohol consumption increase risk for breast cancer?

Yes. However, moderation is key. Research shows that having one drink a day can slightly increase risk for breast cancer. While having more than one a day has a more significant increase in risk. However, no studies have shown the more a person drinks the higher their risk of cancer becomes.

Type of alcohol is irrelevant: beer, wine, or mixed drink. If alcohol is an important topic for you please consult your doctor so that you are aware of your limits.

How do oral contraceptives affect breast cancer?

Women who have been using birth control pills for five or more years are at an increased risk for breast cancer. However, the risk is relatively small due to the low about of hormones present in contraceptive pills today. If you are a young woman with a family history of breast cancer please consult your gynecologist. They may advise for a year break from contraceptive pills after a 5-year time frame then resume again for another 5 years. This is an increasingly common practice; however, there is no evidence to support this standard of care.

Is there a link between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer?

Yes. In the early 2000’s the American Cancer Society added HRT to their carcinogenic list. Women with known risk of breast cancer are advised to not take HRT to control menopausal symptoms. Instead, they should seek out other alternatives that might be safer for them.

How often should I do the Breast Self-Exam (BSE)?

It is recommended to give yourself a breast self-exam once a month. Keep an eye out for any changes in breast tissue such as:

– Changes in size
– Feeling a lump, dimpling, or puckering of the breast
– Inversion of the nipple
– Redness or scaliness of the breast skin
– Redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area
– Discharge of secretions from the nipple

If you discover any of these changes contact your doctor immediately. Even though 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous, all require further evaluation in order to confirm status.

It is best to perform the breast self-exam 7-10 after the menstrual period starts. This is also when breasts are least likely to be tender and lumpy. Findings may be different in relationship to where a woman is in her menstrual cycle. If you are no longer menstruating, it is advised to select the same day every month (ex. The 1st of every month) to perform the breast-self exam. There is no added benefit to administering these exams more than once a month.

It is important for women to know the details of their breasts. If you have trouble remembering, draw a diagram of where the lumps, bumps, grooves, and other findings are felt. This can be used as a reminder from month to month.

Can physical activity reduce the risk of breast cancer?

Physical activity can help you with maintaining a healthy weight, which helps prevents breast cancer. It also helps with boosting your immune system. A woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer with as little as 3 hours of physical activity a week or around 30 minutes a day. No need to buy a gym membership. Power walking is more than sufficient.

Does a family history of breast cancer put someone at a higher risk?

Most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Only 5-10% of women diagnosed have a family history. However, women who have family history are considered to be in the higher risk group.

Are mammograms painful?

During a mammogram the breasts are compressed, this can sometimes cause a brief period of discomfort. Women who are sensitive are advised to schedule their mammogram a week after their menstrual cycle so that their breast are less tender. If you are still concerned about the pain, consult your doctor. You might be able to take acetaminophen an hour before your appointment to prevent discomfort.

How often should I go for a check-up?

Even if you are healthy, you should get a physical every year which should include a clinical breast exam and a pelvic exam. If any unusual symptoms or changes occur in your breasts before or after your scheduled visit, immediately see your doctor.

What impact does stress have on breast cancer?

Studies have shown that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter the immune system. This can allow cancer cells to get themselves rooted within the body. Therefore, it is advised to find ways to cope with your stress levels.