Got Breast Cancer Questions?

11-04-2014 10:28 AM

This week’s guest blogger is Sherry Fox with Baylor Health Care System. She meets hundreds/thousands of women each year at health fairs. This week, she answers some of the most-asked questions she gets about breast cancer. She also just happens to be a Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant.

Q: If breast cancer doesn't run in my family, why do I need annual screenings?

Sherry: Twins don't run in my family but I had twins anyway! Most women who get breast cancer don’t have a family history. Only about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be the result of gene defects inherited from a parent.

Q: If I have a family history of breast cancer, are there any special screenings I should get?

Sherry: Be sure to tell your doctor and ask for a risk assessment. Your medical history may change when you should start certain tests and screenings.

For example, women who have a greater than 20 percent risk of developing breast cancer may need an MRI in addition to mammography. If you have a first-degree family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, we recommend you begin screening 10 years before the age of diagnosis. So if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40, you should begin screening at age 30.

Your doctor can also determine if you would benefit from genetic counseling or testing. Most doctors and patients don’t discuss the topic thoroughly enough. Therefore, many women who would benefit from genetic testing never get tested. If those tests show you are at high risk, other screenings like MRIs, mammograms or ultrasounds may be helpful.

Q: What can I do to reduce my risk of developing breast cancer?

Sherry: There are many things you can do to lower your risk.

First, maintain a healthy weight. This helps reduce your risk of several forms of cancer as well as heart disease and diabetes. Being overweight after menopause has been linked to increasing your risk of breast cancer.

Get some exercise! You already knew this one, right? Highly active women are 25 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who get little activity. It’s best to get 45 to 60 minutes of vigorous activity on most days. Try jogging, cycling, swimming, jumping rope or Zumba

Cut the alcohol. If you drink alcohol at all, limit yourself to one drink a day. Even having just one alcoholic drink a day raises your risk of developing breast cancer about 10 percent.

Don’t smoke. Some experts believe smoking increases your risk for developing breast cancer. Even if this isn't the case, smoking cessation may be the single best thing you can do to decrease mortality.

Breastfeed your babies. Studies have found that breastfeeding does lower breast cancer risk and that the protection builds over time. For instance, your protection increases the longer you breastfeed and with every additional child you breastfeed.

Q: Do I really need to do the monthly breast self-exam?

Sherry: While the American Cancer Society no longer recommends this for all women, the best way to stay ahead of breast cancer is early detection. We still recommend monthly self exams because you need to know how your breasts look and feel and be alert to any changes. If you do notice a lump or any change, contact your doctor immediately – even after a recent, normal mammogram.

Q: How often should I get a mammogram?

Sherry: The American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram every year after the age of 40. If you have a family history or breast changes, your doctor may have different recommendations.

Q: Are there any other signs of breast cancer besides lumps?

Sherry: Yes. Other warning signs include skin irritation or retraction, nipple pain, redness or scales around the nipple, or discharge other than breast milk. One less common, but aggressive, form of breast cancer causes the breast to develop thick skin, redness and sometimes swelling. Don’t assume any of these are an infection. Get checked by your doctor immediately.