Improve Your Health

Breast Cancer, What’s Your Risk

Understanding your risk for breast cancer is one of the best ways to prevent the disease or catch it during the earliest and most treatable stages.

One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Factors that increase your risk include:

  • Family history – Having a first-degree relative with breast cancer significantly increases your risk. Additionally having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation will also increase your risk. Advanced technology allows for the detection these gene mutations, which are most linked to breast cancer
  • Age – With age comes increased risk. However, your risk will start to decrease after you’re in menopause.
  • Early onset of menstruation (before age 12)
  • Menopause after age 55
  • Having your first child after age 25
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Consuming more than one alcoholic drink per day
  • Taking birth control pills – Although your risk increases while you’re on the pill, it will return to baseline after you discontinue use of the medication.

The High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare offers a comprehensive approach to address breast cancer risk factors and develop treatment plans that attend to each patient’s situation. We take into account the whole picture, including a patient’s age, family history and even the types of food she eats on a regular basis. Depending on her risk, we may recommend starting mammograms earlier or even undergoing breast MRI. It’s all on a case-by-case basis.

One thing I recommend for all women is breast self-awareness. It is important to know how your breasts normally look and feel by doing monthly exams. If you’re pre-menopausal, you should do the exam the week after your period starts. If you’re post-menopausal, you should do the exam on the same day each month. While doing the exam, pay attention to any areas of redness, dimpling, discharge or if one quadrant of your breast pushes out. If you notice something that seems unusual, make an appointment with your care provider to get it checked out.

And don’t forget the importance of getting your annual wellness exam. Many hidden and symptomless health issues are discovered at these exams. These visits are usually covered by your health insurance. To find out what’s covered, contact your insurer or provider.