Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Approximately 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will receive a breast cancer diagnosis, with death rates being higher than any other cancer, besides lung cancer. These are scary statistics, so how can you protect yourself? Screening for breast cancer and understanding risk factors can help. It is important to find breast cancer before it causes symptoms. Early detection of breast cancer can help prevent the spread of the disease and increase the chance of cure. Mammograms are one screening tool your practitioner uses to detect early changes of breast cancer. A mammogram takes an X-ray picture of your breast, so that your practitioner and radiologist can look for changes in your breast tissue. Mammograms do expose you to a very low dose of radiation from the X-ray, but this does not impact your breast cancer risk. Screening benefits outweigh the risks, and repeating mammograms on a schedule is important to compare images and look for any changes. Frequency of mammogram screenings is flexible based on your risk for developing breast cancer. For women at an average risk, The American Cancer Society recommends the following early-detection screenings:
• Optional mammograms beginning at age 40
• Annual mammograms for women ages 45 to 54
• Mammograms every two years for women 55 and older, unless they choose to stick with yearly screenings
• MRIs and mammograms for some women at high risk of breast cancer

Based on personal and family risks, you and your provider may choose to screen for breast cancer more or less often than the recommendations. Identifying risk factors may help you take preventive measures to decrease your risk for developing breast cancer. Some risk factors you cannot help, such as:
• advancing age
• inherited genetic causes
• family history of breast cancer
• having dense breast tissue
• having your period before age 12 or starting menopause after age 55

However, there are breast cancer risk factors that you can modify.

1.) Obesity, especially having excess body fat around your waist, can put you at risk for cancer. The beginning of breast cancer risk starts with a BMI of 25-29.9 (overweight), and continues to a BMI of 30 or greater (obese). Your body mass index or BMI is based on your height and weight. Calculate your BMI here:

2.) Eating a balanced diet can help reduce your risk of excess weight, therefore can developing breast cancer as well as many other cancers and health problems. Limiting added sugars, saturated fats, and salt in your diet are part of eating right. Cook at home and incorporate whole fruits and veggies in your meal. Look at the back label of food packages for salt (sodium), fat, and sugar contents. Check your portion sizes and be mindful of what you eat by starting a food journal. Check out more about balanced diets here:

3.) Being physically active 150 minutes a week includes dancing, swimming, walking the dog, playing with grandkids, gardening, and so much more! You can have fun while decreasing cancer risks, improving your sleep, combating stress levels, increasing your focus, and boosting your mood. Don’t forget to add 2 days per week of muscle-strengthening activities to help you live a longer, healthier life. Check out more at:

4.) Smoking puts you at risk for many health problems, and is linked to increased breast cancer risk in younger women who have not gone through menopause yet. Furthermore, second-hand smoke exposure increases breast cancer risk in older women who have gone through menopause. If you smoke, there are many supports to help you quit. Talk to your healthcare provider who can help you explore medication options, as well as smoking cessation programs and therapy. Additional treatments that can be helpful include acupuncture, meditation, and hypnosis. You can call the Tobacco Cessation Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. There is even an app for that, QuitGuide and quitSTART are free apps that give you extra support through your smartphone 24/7.

5.) Heavy alcohol intake is also linked to increasing breast cancer risk, the more alcohol is consumed, the risk increases. This risk is for both daily or binge drinking.
• Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
• Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
• Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
• Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?
If you answer yes to two of more of these questions, you may have alcohol dependency. If so, talk to your healthcare provider. Your provider can get you the support you need in a safe, caring, and confidential manner.
Taking care of yourself while participating in scheduled screenings can help you reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Innovative Women’s HealthCare can help you with your breast health screening process and develop a plan that best fits your individual needs. If you’d like more information, please contact Innovative Women’s HealthCare at 402 834-3973.

Carrie Wales RN, BSN, CPN, FNP Student3