Art Aiello is a writer and editor based in Waukesha, WI.
Here’s what you need to know about the second most common form of cancer overall
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and with good reason. Not only is breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women around the world, but in terms of cancer fatalities in American women, it is second only to lung cancer. Don’t think that only women are at risk of getting breast cancer, though. While it is about 100 times more common in women, breast cancer will affect about 2300 American men this year. Generally speaking, it’s the second most common form of cancer overall. Given these statistics, what do you need to know to protect yourself?
First, consider if you are at risk of getting breast cancer. The chance of getting breast cancer increases as you age. If you are between 50 and 74 years of age, you should get a mammogram at least once every two years. More about screening later.
Reproductive factors can also affect breast cancer risk. If you were a particularly young woman when you had your first period, or if you were an older woman when you had your first child, you might be at greater risk for breast cancer than the general population. Early menopause or long-term hormone replacement therapy are other risk indicators.
Finally, genetics can play a role in causing breast cancer. Your risk increases if you have a history of breast problems, or if there is a history of breast cancer in your family.
Remember — having a risk factor or factors does not mean you will get breast cancer any more than not having one means you won’t get breast cancer. They are simply ways to determine whether it’s more likely that you will get breast cancer so that you can take appropriate steps.
As with many cancers, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself. As an additional benefit, these measures will also help keep you healthy overall. The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day. While it’s often associated with lung cancer, smoking has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, as well. If you are a smoker, this is even more reason to quit.
Weight control and exercise, while being good advice for healthy living in general, are also good ways to minimize your risk of breast cancer. Obesity, especially after menopause, is a risk factor. Exercise will help you keep you weight under control.
Finally, for women of childbearing age, breastfeeding might reduce the chances of getting breast cancer. The more you breastfeed, the greater the benefit in terms of reduced risk of breast cancer.
As for breast cancer screening, mammograms — X-rays of the breast — are the best early indicators. Early detection makes it easier and more effective to treat breast cancer, and mammograms make that possible because they can detect breast cancer before other screening methods and before symptoms appear. As mentioned earlier, older women should have a mammogram at least once every two years. Women between 40 and 50 years old should discuss the need for and frequency of mammograms with their doctor.
Regular breast self-exams are another good screening tool, because you can do it yourself as often as you like. The Johns Hopkins Hospital recommends performing a breast self-exam at least once a month, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation offers instruction on performing a breast self-exam here.
Finally, you can have clinical breast exams performed by your doctor or healthcare provider. During such an exam, your doctor will check for lumps or other anomalies that could be indicative of breast cancer.
What about breast cancer screening in men? They can check for breast cancer in the same ways as women. Men with a high risk of breast cancer should have a clinical breast exam one or two times per year once they turn 35, and mammograms beginning at age 40.
Note: Motivo, makers of the Tour, does not provide medical advice. The information on this blog and site is general information for educational purposes only. Please consult your physician for specific information about breast cancer.