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Breast Cancer Prevention

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer, there are many steps women can take to reduce their risk of breast cancer. One of the best, and most crucial, steps towards breast cancer prevention is routine breast examination. The American Cancer Society recommends that women over the age of 20 consider a monthly breast self-examination to detect any changes or unusual characteristics in your breasts and have a clinical breast examination every three years. Women over the age of 40 and those with certain risk factors are urged to have clinical breast exams and mammography screening annually or as recommended by a physician.

Learning about breast cancer and its early detection is also a crucial aspect of breast cancer prevention. The breast cancer awareness movement is a product of a number of reputable women's health advocates dedicated to spreading the word about breast cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. They believe that by educating people about breast cancer and encouraging routine screening, the rates of advanced breast cancer and fatalities will be greatly reduced.

Controlling Risk Factors

In addition to having routine breast examinations, women can practice breast cancer prevention by reducing known risk factors whenever possible. Risk factors such as genetics (see genetics and breast cancer) are impossible to prevent. If a woman has a family history of breast cancer, breast cancer prevention may involve blood testing to detect specific genetic alterations, or, an earlier onset of breast cancer screening. The following are risk factors that a woman can control which may prevent her risk of breast cancer.

  • Obesity. According to the American Cancer Society, overweight women are 60 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than women at a healthy weight. This risk is especially relevant to post-menopausal women and those who have never taken hormone replacement therapy. Given the number of American women who are overweight, weight control is an important step in breast cancer prevention.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy. The use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been shown to increase one's risk of developing breast cancer. Due to the risks associated with HRT, the US Preventative Services Task Force recommends against routine use of HRT to protect against diseases in post-menopausal women. A woman should speak with her doctor in greater detail about the risks and benefits of using HRT.
  • Alcohol consumption. A large study has found that consuming two drinks a day can
  • increase the risk of breast cancer by 21 percent. This increased risk appears to be dose-dependant and exists regardless of the type of alcohol consumed.
  • Physical activity. Some studies have discovered a correlation between breast cancer and the protective benefits of physical exercise, particularly in pre-menopausal women.
  • Tamoxifen. In women with a high risk of developing breast cancer, the drug Tamoxifen has been shown effective in breast cancer prevention. The National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project found that women who took Tamoxifen reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by 49 percent. Other studies have confirmed these findings.
  • Prophylactic Mastectomy. In women at high risk of breast cancer, some doctors recommend a preventative mastectomy before breast cancer develops. This is a more radical step that should be discussed between a physician and a high-risk patient.

Generally speaking, the best steps toward breast cancer prevention are to maintain a healthy lifestyle and receive routine breast screenings to detect breast cancer as early as possible. It is important for women to learn about the symptoms of breast cancer. Seventy percent of all women diagnosed with breast cancer discover a lump on their own. It is, therefore, important for a woman to empower herself with as much information as possible about breast cancer prevention to mitigate her risk of developing this disease.