Breast Oncology Surgery

September 27, 2021

What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?

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If you worry about developing breast cancer, talking to your doctor is the best way to get advice on reducing your risk based on your age and medical history. However, there are several easy steps you can take that contribute to breast cancer prevention for almost anyone, including:

Be Active & Fit

Regular exercise is good for your overall health and wellness, but it also reduces your chances of developing breast cancer. Part of this is successful weight control, as women who are overweight are more likely to develop breast cancer due to inflammation in the body. At least 75 minutes of moderate workouts each week is suggested.

A healthy diet should also be a part of your fitness routine. Cut back on red meat, which can contribute to cancer. Focus on adding green vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli to your diet. Eggplant and tomatoes are also antioxidants that reduce blood supplies to cancer sells.

Stop Smoking

This is one of the most important steps you can take if you’re a smoker. Smoking doesn’t just increase the risk of lung disease. Women who smoke are more likely than non-smokers to develop breast cancer and other forms of cancer. Quitting is preferable, but even cutting back can be a tool in your breast cancer prevention arsenal.

Understand Your Medications

Talk to your physician about the medications you’re taking and which ones might lead to an increase in the chances of breast cancer. You need to carefully weigh to reasons you’re taking certain medications against the likelihood of developing breast cancer.

One of the major offenders is hormone replacement therapy regimes. While taking estrogen or progestin can replace hormones lost during menopause, it also increases your risk of breast cancer. The longer you take hormones after menopause, the greater the risk. To minimize osteoporosis or heart disease, your doctor may recommend short-term hormone therapy to balance the benefits and risks.

Another hormonal medication that has been linked to cancer is birth control pills. While birth control is safe for most women, the risk of breast cancer increases for women on high-estrogen birth control and women who take them after the age of 35. If you have had any breast cancer in the past, do not take birth control pills unless absolutely necessary.

Be Aware of Your Family’s Breast Cancer History

If there are individuals in your family who have had breast cancer, breast cancer prevention becomes critical. Be sure you know the complete medical history of your family, particularly the women. Find out if your mother, grandmothers, siblings, or cousins have had breast cancer. An increased tendency to develop breast cancer is hereditary, although not guaranteed.

Genetic Testing

If there is a genetic history of breast cancer in your family, your physician may recommend genetic testing. While most women with breast cancer do not have a gene mutation, the women who have the mutation are at much higher risk and need to take breast cancer prevention steps to protect themselves.

The risk of developing breast cancer in your lifetime is increased by 30% to 49% if you have a moderate-risk gene mutation and 50% or higher if you have a high-risk mutation such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. If you test positive for one of the genes contributing to an increased risk of cancer, your doctor may suggest a prophylactic mastectomy, sometimes called a preventative mastectomy.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has suggested guidelines for considering panel genetic testing for mutations linked to breast cancer. Women meeting any of these criteria should discuss genetic testing with their doctor:

  • Anyone with a family history of breast cancer in individuals under age 45.
  • Those of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage with a family history of breast cancer.
  • Any family member with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • History of breast cancer and a close family member with breast cancer.
  • History of breast cancer and two or more closely related family members with breast cancer.
  • A family history of various cancers, including pancreatic, metastatic prostate, or ovarian cancers.
  • A family history of male breast cancer.

If you have a genetic mutation that is linked to breast cancer or have had breast cancer in the past, your doctor may discuss more extreme prevention methods. These include medications and surgical intervention.

Medications for Breast Cancer Prevention

There are medications such as Raloxifene and Tamoxifen that are FDA approved for helping prevent breast cancer, although they do have side effects. They are recommended for high-risk individuals, including those with a significant family history of breast cancer, gene mutations linked to breast cancer, and anyone who has already undergone treatment for cancer in the past.

Prophylactic Mastectomy

If you fall into a high-risk category for breast cancer, your doctor or surgeon may suggest preventative mastectomy, or removal, of one or both breasts. This is most commonly performed for women who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. In these women, the risk of breast cancer can be reduced by as much as 95%. If you have a significant family history of breast cancer, a prophylactic mastectomy may lower your cancer risk by as much as 90%.

There are three types of preventative mastectomy available to reduce your breast cancer risk:

  • Total Mastectomy – The surgeon will remove the entire breast, including the nipple. The lymph nodes and muscles are left intact. This is the most extreme form of prophylactic mastectomy.
  • Skin Sparing Mastectomy – This surgery is usually performed on individuals who have had a biopsy of a particular region of the breast. The surgeon removes the area around the biopsy, the nipple, and the areola. The skin left over after the tissue is removed can later accommodate breast reconstruction or an implant.
  • Nipple Sparing Mastectomy – This is essentially the same as a total mastectomy, but the nipple is left alone. There is a smaller, less noticeable scar with this procedure, and sensation may return to the nipple later.

Prophylactic mastectomy is only recommended for women at extremely high risk of developing breast cancer or having a breast cancer recurrence. If you worry that you fall into the high-risk category, talk to a breast oncology surgeon at Arkansas Surgical Hospital to learn more about your options. A physical, medical history, mammogram, and genetic testing can all provide valuable information to help you and your surgeon determine the best course of action.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

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