Know the risk factors of breast cancer

Every woman should know her risk for breast cancer. The average lifetime risk for a woman is 12.5 percent, but having a combination of risk factors increased the risk to over 20 percent.

If women are at lower risk, the basic screening guidelines apply, but if the risk is high, it changes when additional testing could be done to increase the odds of finding cancer sooner. Knowing risk factors has saved many lives; prevention or early detection is the best medicine.  These risk factors include:

  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • History of breast biopsies
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Obesity
  • Early onset menses/late onset menopause
  • Nulliparous
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • ETOH use

At the Spectrum Health High Risk Breast clinic, there are also conversations about what women can do to reduce their risk for breast cancer. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, keeping alcohol to a minimum, staying active with daily exercise, and choosing a healthy diet high in vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower.

If a woman has high risk, she also might qualify to take medications such as a SERM such as tamoxifen which blocks the breast estrogen receptors, or an aromatase inhibitor-which blocks estrogen production from pre-hormones made in fat and adrenal gland. These medications can have significant side effects and health effects but are powerful to decrease risk.

Breast cancer can happen, the goal is to prevent cancer and if not prevent, find it early. Early breast cancer requires less treatment which allows a woman to get back to her life sooner.

To set up an appointment with Dr. Bitner or her staff, call (616)267-8520. Their office is located at 3800 Lake Michigan Dr. NW, Suite A., Grand Rapids.

Learn more about healthy living and women's health on her blog.

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