Back to the Basics: Explaining Breast Cancer

Back to the Basics  Explaining Breast CancerFrom statistics to screenings to treatments, breast cancer is a big subject—and it might seem hard to wrap your mind around. The breast cancer basics below can help you understand the disease and take steps to lower your risk.

How It Starts
Cells are the building blocks of the body. When cells grow uncontrollably, this is called cancer. The name of a cancer depends on where it starts, so breast cancer starts in the breast. Cancer, however, isn’t isolated. As time passes, harmful cells can spread to other parts of the body.

Risk and Risk Reduction
Measuring breast cancer risk isn’t an exact science. Doctors can’t always explain why some women develop the disease and others don’t. But some factors, such as being age 50 or older, up your risk. Other risk factors include:

  • Starting your period before age 12
  • Having dense breasts
  • Having a family history of breast cancer
  • Inheriting mutations in the cancer-related genes BRCA1 or BRCA2

The risk factors above are out of your control. But certain risk factors, such as drinking and physical activity, can be altered with healthy lifestyle changes. Following these tips may reduce your risk:

  • Avoid alcohol. If you drink, limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage per day.
  • Stay at a healthy weight for your height, especially after menopause.
  • Work out at least 150 minutes every week.

Stick to Screenings
Experts offer slightly different suggestions when it comes to breast cancer screening. Some recommend getting yearly mammograms starting at age 45. Others suggest starting mammograms at age 50 and getting this X-ray every two years.

Talk with your health care provider to decide the best screening schedule for you. Whichever one you choose, sticking to it is essential.

Types of Treatment
Treatment options vary depending on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. Options include surgery, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, and chemotherapy. Your provider may recommend combining two or more treatments.

Stay Proactive to Get Ahead of Cancer
In honor of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, start a conversation with a health care provider about your own personal risk factors. Find out what you can do to lower your risk and ask what screening scheduleis right for you.