In the United States, one in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, the National Breast Cancer Foundation reports.
While it is not possible to prevent cancer, there are things you can do to lower the risk of developing it. You can also arm yourself with knowledge about how to catch and suppress it at an early stage.
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Ana Barrera, director of medical imaging for St. Luke’s Health-Sugar Land Hospital, recently discussed some warning signs and symptoms. Barrera, who has been in the imaging field for 30 years, said breast cancer awareness has improved significantly through the years.
“It’s very comforting to know that there are many resources out there for patients now,” she said.
Limiting alcohol consumption, staying active, drinking plenty of water throughout the day, not smoking and keeping a healthy weight will lower the risk of developing breast cancer.
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“When you lower the risk of breast cancer, the survival percentage goes up considerably as well,” Barrera said. “Research found that lifestyle changes can decrease the risk of breast cancer, even women in high risk groups.”
Age and gender are among the strongest risk factors for breast cancer, with most cases occurring in women more than 50. Family history is another; women with close female relatives with breast cancer have a greater than 50 percent chance of developing breast cancer.
“If there’s any type of family history of cancer on the maternal or paternal side, it’s always good to be hyper vigilant,” Barrera said. “Yes, it is more of a prevalence on the maternal side. But you can’t dismiss any history on the paternal side either.”
Women with no family history of cancer should start getting regular mammograms after the age of 40.
“It is not uncommon to have mammograms before the age of 40 if you have a family history of breast cancer,” she said. “So, 40 is a starting guideline for women. And if in between the annual screening mammograms, you feel something is not right, don’t wait. Come in, see your clinician and work that up.”
Barrera reiterated the importance of keeping appointments and performing breast self-exams at home. Many have been putting off scheduled mammograms and screenings in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The Sugar Land area is very blessed to have many wonderful clinicians,” Barrera said. “At CHI St. Luke’s Health, we’re taking extraordinary measures for the safety of the patients as well.”
When cancer is caught early, there are more treatment options available and a higher chance of survival. The point of screening for breast cancer is to detect it before it causes symptoms, like a lumps, pain or discoloration. Most women go to a doctor after they start noticing abnormalities.
“Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer,” said Barrera. “Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. It is important to pay attention to the warning signs of breast cancer.”
Abnormalities include lumps, hardness, redness, dimpling, dry or flaky skin, nipple retraction, pain, nipple discharge or any kind of swelling or irritation.
“If you feel a lump in your breast, you should call your doctor and make an appointment if needed,” Barrera said. “You shouldn’t wait or put it off out of fears of contracting the virus.”