To help women stay on top of their breast health, Komen developed four simple messages as reminders about what they should know to stay healthy and be vigilant about their breast health.
These are four things to remember to stay healthy:
- Know your risk
Each woman’s risk of getting breast cancer is unique; talk to a doctor and your family members to learn what risk factors apply to your situation, including lifestyle factors.
- Get screened
When to begin screening for breast cancer and how often to get screened are based on individual risk factors; your doctor can help determine the appropriate screening regime for you.
Women at average risk should start having an annual mammogram no later than age 40.
Women at increased risk of the disease should start breast cancer screenings, and if appropriate, genetic testing and counseling, at an age that is determined by your doctor based on why you are considered at increased risk.
- Know your normal
There are many potential changes to the breasts that could be signs of breast cancer. If ANYTHING about your breasts’ appearance or feel seems different, notify your doctor immediately.
Change may include a lump, puckering of skin, nipple discharge, and redness.
A change does NOT automatically mean breast cancer, but it is something you need to get checked.
Be your own advocate. If something feels different than normal and your doctor did not detect or feel something, press for a second opinion or having a screening test done. You know your body best, so make sure to be vocal about your concerns.
- Live a healthy lifestyle
Breastfeed, if you can
Maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and limit alcohol intake.
Know Your Risk
There are many factors that may increase a woman or man’s chance of getting breast cancer. This list shows several of such factors, but this is not comprehensive.
The two greatest risk factors are being a woman and getting older. While research has found lifestyle and biological factors that do increase an individual’s risk of getting breast cancer, every woman must consider themselves at risk.
An individual’s risk of getting breast cancer can change over the course of their lifetime. It is important to review the list of risk factors on a regular basis and talk to your doctor if you’ve developed a risk factor that you previously didn’t have.
Listed in alphabetical order:
- Alcohol use
- Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
- Being a woman
- Being overweight (or weight gain after menopause)
- Breast tissue that is considered high density
- Current or recent use of birth control pills
- Current or recent use of menopausal hormones
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- Family history of breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer
- Getting older
- Lack of exercise
- Never having biological children or having a first child after age 35
- Not breastfeeding
- Younger age at first period/older age at menopause
A number of medical groups have published different guidelines about when to begin screening for breast cancer and how frequently to be screened. These groups include the American Cancer Society, American College of Radiology, National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
The differences in screening guidelines are a result of the varying methods for collecting and reviewing long-term studies evaluating the benefits and harms of using screening mammography to detect breast cancer early and correlation with lives saved as a result of detection. Each group analyzes that data for how effective mammography is to detect breast cancer by age.
Susan G. Komen does not publish screening guidelines. Rather, Komen encourages every woman to assess if they are at average or increased risk of getting breast cancer. The appropriate screening regime for each woman will be based on that assessment.
Online resources to assess an individual’s risk:
- National Cancer Institute, Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool
- Susan G. Komen, Risk Factors Table
- Susan G. Komen, Gail Assessment Model
If a woman is found to be at higher risk of developing breast cancer, their doctor will help them determine if they should have more frequent screenings that start at an earlier age than women who are considered to be at average risk. Women at higher risk of breast cancer may be advised to complete genetic testing to determine whether they have a genetic mutation that increases the risk of developing breast cancer, or to consider additional procedures in addition to a screening mammogram.
If a women is found to be at average risk, Komen Colorado believes they should have the ability to get an annual mammogram starting at age 40. In Colorado, insurance is required to cover an annual mammogram with no co-pay starting at age 40. If a woman does not have insurance, resources are available for free or reduced-cost mammograms.
Know Your Normal
A woman’s breasts experience normal changes throughout the course of her lifetime. It is important that every woman knows how their breasts look and feel normally and to report any changes to their doctor. A doctor can help determine if the changes are a natural part of the body’s development or if the changes are signs of something more serious.
The signs and symptoms of breast cancer are not the same for every woman. A lump is the most common sign of breast cancer, but it is not the only one. Other signs include a puckering of the skin, an inverted nipple, and isolated pain in the breast.
This is a chart that outlines all the changes that could be a warning for breast cancer. While having one of these warning signs does not mean you have breast cancer, it is an indication that you should see a medical professional for evaluation.
However, when a woman sees physical signs of breast cancer, it is often at an advanced stage. Mammography can detect breast cancer at its earliest stage, before anyone can feel a lump.
There are many benign reasons for changes in a woman’s breast, including cysts or other fibrous tissues. It is still important to get changes checked out, as only a doctor can determine if it is a benign condition or should be further examined.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
While we cannot prevent breast cancer, there are ways a woman can lower their risk for developing breast cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Add exercise into your routine
- Limit alcohol intake
- Limit menopausal hormone use
- Breastfeed, if you can