Lower your risk with lifestyle changes
The pink ribbon is an especially powerful symbol this month, as we recognize the importance of breast cancer awareness. There are few people whose lives have not been affected somehow by breast cancer. We either know someone who has faced the disease, we may have a family member or friend going through treatment, or we might have lost someone to breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in the United States, after nonmelanoma skin cancer. According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, this year, nearly 297,800 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer — this works out to a diagnosis about every two minutes.
Though the statistics are chilling, there is good reason to feel positive about the fight we are waging against breast cancer. This is where the critical nature of early detection comes in. Both self-care in the form of monthly breast exams that women give themselves and a yearly mammogram contribute to early detection, which is key to survival. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast is an amazing 99%.
We at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH) are proud to be able to offer the most advanced breast imaging for screening purposes. This includes 3D mammograms, which offer distinct benefits over 2D mammograms. The test provides a better view of the interior of the breast to radiologists, since many images are taken of the tissue from different angles, so abnormalities are more easily found. The 3D mammogram is also better at detecting smaller tumors and tumors in the women with dense breasts (when there is more glandular and fibrous tissue in the breast than fatty tissue). Finally, 3D mammograms produce fewer false-positive results, which are readings that reflect the presence of breast cancer even when there is none.
There has also been disagreement about when a woman who is at average risk for breast cancer should get her first mammogram, and how frequently she should get screened thereafter. The protocol that the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Radiologists (ACR), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and other highly respected entities recommend is that average-risk women receive their first mammogram at age 40 and get tested annually, as opposed to every other year, which some organizations encourage.
It’s important to note too, that every woman should have a discussion with her primary care physician about when she should have her baseline mammogram and the frequency of testing. Physicians will make their recommendations based on multiple considerations, including whether a woman has any family history of breast cancer, her age, whether she has had children, and other factors.
Physicians also discuss with their patients the modifiable risk factors for breast cancer that women can do something about. By adhering to certain healthy lifestyle practices, women can lower their likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Important lifestyle choices include ensuring that you eat a nutrient-dense diet, which favors whole foods over processed ones, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and lean proteins. Avoiding tobacco and keeping alcohol intake limited or not drinking at all also make a difference.
Staying active is important, since a sedentary lifestyle is linked to multiple types of cancer, including breast cancer. Aim for 150 minutes of activity per week, or about 30 minutes, five days a week, plus two strength training sessions per week. Resistance training can be done with weights, resistance bands, or just your own body if you do things like planks, pushups, and other exercises that you perform using your body’s weight.
Women and their physicians can form a powerful team when it comes to fighting breast cancer, and we are ready to provide the best in screening services to our community here at HCH.
Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital.