Early detection is key when it comes to treating breast cancer. A key study reinforces what the American College of Radiology and Novant Health has been recommending all along – breast screening for women should begin at age 40, possibly earlier for those at higher risk. The study, published in Cancer, found that yearly mammograms between the age of 40 and 80 can reduce breast cancer deaths by 40 percent.
In addition to yearly screening mammograms, there are several other things women can do to make sure their breasts are healthy.
Dr. Nicole Abinanti, a radiologist with Mecklenburg Radiology Associates and director of women’s imaging for the Novant Health Breast Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, suggests the following:
1. Self-exam every month. It’s important for women to be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel so they can quickly alert their care team to any changes. Planning a monthly breast self-exam around your menstruation cycle makes it easier to find abnormalities and changes, Abinanti said.
“The week after your period is the best time to self-examine because your breasts are at their most normal, without the swelling and tenderness that accompany menstruation,” she said.
2. Get a mammogram the week after your period . “I recommend this based on the same reasoning for timing your monthly self-exam after your period,” Abinanti said. “This is the time when there will be the fewest hormonally related changes. It is also the time when women have the least discomfort associated with the mammogram.”
3. Try to stick to a low-fat diet. Although there is no definite evidence a low-fat diet will help prevent breast cancer, women who normally eat a high-fat diet could benefit by reducing their fat intake, according to results from a Women’s Health Initiative study.
4. Exercise. Increased physical activity is associated with a reduced risk for breast cancer in postmenopausal women — and it does not have to be strenuous. As little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours a week of brisk walking could reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 18 percent, according to a national study by the Women’s Health Initiative.
5. If you smoke, quit. More studies are finding that long-term heavy smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
6. Avoid heavy drinking. There is evidence that even a low amount of alcohol consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer, with increased consumption resulting in increased risk, according to the American Cancer Society. To prevent many types of cancer, the society recommends women drink no more than one drink a day.
7. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. “Vitamin D helps with overall breast health,” said Abinanti. Studies suggest it may help control normal breast cell growth and may also be able to stop breast cancer cells from growing.
8. Talk to your doctor about your estrogen levels and any hormone replacement therapies. Reportedly, the more estrogen a woman is exposed to over her lifetime, the higher her risk of breast cancer. Abinanti confirmed estrogen can feed certain types of cancer.
To learn more about breast screenings offered by Novant Health, click here.