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What Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention

The next time you are in a room with more than seven women, take a moment to look around. Research tells us that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer death among women, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation .

While we do not know how to prevent cancer, there are proactive steps you can take to lower your risk for developing certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor is a characteristic that increases your likelihood of developing cancer. While the National Breast Cancer Foundation has identified many risk factors for breast cancer, these carry the most weight:

  • If you are over the age of 40
  • If you have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer
  • If you, your mother, sister, or daughter have tested positive for a gene mutation associated with a higher risk of breast cancer (i.e. BRCA1 or BRCA2)
  • If you have dense breasts, which have more connective tissue than fatty tissue
  • If you are not physically active
  • If you are overweight after menopause

If you live with any of the risk factors listed above, the next step is to check out the National Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool . This online tool uses your personal medical history and some facts about your family’s health to estimate your breast cancer risk over the next five years and up to age 90 (considered to be your lifetime risk). Of course, this is also an important conversation that all women should have with their doctors, particularly after age 40.

Lowering Your Risk for Breast Cancer

Again, while we do not know how to prevent cancer, leading a healthy lifestyle can go a long way towards lowering your risk for breast cancer. Follow these simple tips to lower your risk and improve your health:

  • Do not smoke. If you do, quit as soon as possible
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular physical activity
  • Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day

In addition to a healthy lifestyle, the National Breast Cancer Foundation also recommends scheduling regular exams and screenings with your doctor.

Cancers that are detected early are often treated more successfully. Here are some general guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer, by age:

  • All women over the age of 18 should conduct monthly self-exams
  • All women over the age of 21 should schedule yearly well-woman exams at a doctor’s office or clinic
  • All women over the age of 40 should consider yearly mammograms

Always consult with your doctor to create a screening schedule that is appropriate for you, given your unique health history and risk factors.

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