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Reducing Your Risk for Breast Cancer By Kathleen Toomey, M.D.

By Kathleen Toomey, M.D., Medical Director of The Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset

Breast cancer awareness is important for all women. To be aware of breast cancer, means knowing our risk factors for breast cancer.

One of the most important risk factors for breast cancer is age. Women need to realize that their risk of breast cancer goes up with age. The American Cancer Society recommends women begin getting yearly mammograms at age 40. This should continue until a woman’s life expectancy is less than five years. Breast self-examination is recommended every month, but this does not substitute for a mammogram.

It is important to realize that only 15 percent of women with breast cancer have a family history of breast cancer. That means the overwhelming majority of women with breast cancer have no family history.

How can we reduce our risk of breast cancer? The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Exercise and keeping a healthy body weight are also important. We should avoid alcohol and if we drink, it should be no more than one drink per day.
There are medications such as Tamoxifen that are proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 50 percent in high risk women. Some risks are due to either family history or having a benign breast biopsy with a high risk lesion such as Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia. Women who have had radiation to the chest at a young age for Hodgkin Lymphoma are especially at high risk of breast cancer, as well as women who have a gene mutation like Angelina Jolie. Early periods, late menopause, not having children or having your first child after 35 are all risk factors for breast cancer.

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the chance of a cure. There are fewer women that require chemotherapy after a diagnosis of breast cancer due to advances in testing the cancers for their response to the therapy. We are moving ahead with clinical research to continue to cure breast cancer.
Be proactive about your breast health by taking advantage of your routine mammogram, community screenings, educational sessions, counseling and groups. Breast cancer awareness is our best defense.