Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. 1 in 8 women in Canada will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetimes. This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month which aims to raise awareness of the illness, fund research, and equip people with the knowledge to reduce their risk. While consulting your physician about any concerns you may have is a must, there are other steps you can take to become more aware of your body and reduce your breast cancer risk.
By getting to know your body, you can inform your doctor if you notice your breasts changing. Contact your physician if you notice any irregularities such as nipple discharge, swelling in the breast or underarm, a change in the size, shape or symmetry of your breast, or a change in the appearance and/or feel of the nipples or skin.
Many times a lump is discovered by women who give themselves monthly breast examinations. Lumps can be either cancerous or non-cancerous, so it’s important you follow up with your health care provider if you find one.
The BC Cancer Agency recommends women aged 50-74 get a screening mammogram every two years, and for those aged 40-74 who have a first degree relative with breast cancer, screening mammograms are recommended annually. Mammograms can detect cancer early, leading to a higher chance of any treatment succeeding. According to Dr Kathleen Ross, a family physician in Coquitlam, BC, mammograms do not detect all cancers and are not a replacement for a physical exam by your doctor. Even if your mammogram returns a negative result, you should make a follow up appointment with your doctor.
Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, along with many other diseases. If you drink alcohol, consider reducing the amount you consume. According to Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, women should limit their drinking to no more than 10 drinks per week and two per day. BC Cancer says that while 5-10% of breast cancers have a genetic cause, up to 42% of cases can be linked to lifestyle factors.
Maintaining a healthy body weight and an active lifestyle can help reduce your risk of breast cancer, as it helps with hormone regulation. Many studies have shown that an increase in physical activity can lead to a lower breast cancer risk, as well as a greater sense of physical and mental wellbeing.
While not every woman has the opportunity to breastfeed, those who do can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
Less than 1% of all breast cancer cases in Canada occur in men, with researchers estimating that 230 new cases will be diagnosed across the country in 2019. The risk of men developing breast cancer increases with age, with most men being diagnosed after they reach 60.
Risks and treatment for breast cancer vary from person to person, and speaking with your healthcare provider can help you get help and information that is unique to you. Write down any questions or concerns you have about screening, testing, myths, and treatment options for breast cancer ahead of your appointment with your doctor.
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