Breast Cancer Risks

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. More women today are surviving breast cancer than ever before, thanks to early detection and treatment. American Cancer Society reports more than 2 million American women today are breast cancer survivors.

"Early detection is one of the keys to survival," says Melissa O'Halloran, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Park Nicollet Clinic-Maple Grove. "When breast cancer is detected in its earliest stages, it's much easier to cure. When it goes undetected or untreated, it can spread into nearby breast tissue and other organs."

Breast cancer is caused when breast cells grow uncontrollably and form a mass of tissue known as a tumor, use trulyrawgourmet.com/digestive-advantage-reviews.html. "Not all tumors are cancerous. In fact, eight in 10 are noncancerous, fluid-filled cysts," explains Dr. O'Halloran.

Detecting early symptoms

Symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump, changes in a breast's size or appearance, changes in its skin texture or a nipple discharge. To help detect cancer in its earliest stages, doctors recommend breast self-exams, clinical exams (performed by a doctor or nurse practitioner) and mammograms. (Read "Technological advancements improve early detection.")

Breast self-exams

"Breast self-exams help women establish a baseline for what is normal for them," Dr. O'Halloran continues. "If they notice any changes, they should quickly report them to their doctor." She offers this advice for performing breast self-exams.

Plan self-exams the same time each month, preferably a few days after your period.

Perform exams in good lighting while standing or sitting in front of a mirror. With your arms at your side, look for changes in the breast size or shape; dimpling, puckering or redness of the breasts' skin; or discharge from the nipples. Look for the same signs with your hands pressed tightly on your hips and with your arms raised over your head.

With your fingers flat and together, gently feel for possible lumps using an up-and-down line pattern. Begin under your arm and move your fingers down to the bottom of your ribs, then back up to the collarbone, continuing the up-and-down motion while gradually moving across the entire breast to the breastbone.

Clinical exams, mammograms very important

"Due to our experience, doctors are able to detect more lumps during clinical exams than women are able to detect on their own," explains Dr. O'Halloran. "While self-exams are helpful, women also need regular clinical exams and mammograms, depending on their age and family history." American Cancer Society recommends women have various screenings based on their age and family history.

Beginning at age 20, women are encouraged to perform monthly breast self-exams.

Clinical breast exams should be part of periodic health exams, about every three years for women 20 to 39, and every year for women age 40 or older.

Beginning at age 40, yearly mammograms are recommended.

Women with a family history of breast cancer, especially a mother, sister or daughter, may be advised to begin yearly mammograms at a younger age.

Women's risks vary

While age and family history are two breast cancer risks women cannot control, they can reduce controllable risks by practicing a healthy lifestyle. Dr. O'Halloran offers these suggestions.

Maintain a healthy weight. The risk of breast cancer is often related to prolonged exposure to estrogen, which is linked to excess fat tissue.

Exercise regularly. To pump up the immune system and maintain healthy weight and estrogen levels, women are encouraged to exercise for a total of four hours per week.

Eat a low-fat, nutritious diet. It's especially important to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins and high-fiber foods. For details, refer to the United States Department of Agriculture food pyramid.

Don't smoke. Although studies do not link smoking with causing breast cancer, it can decrease a woman's survival rate once diagnosed with cancer.

Limit alcohol consumption. We recommend women have less than two alcoholic servings a day. A serving is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounce of hard liquor.