|Before the Squeeze|
|Written by Dr Katie Leah|
Breast health is an important concern for women of all ages. Today, every woman knows someone affected by breast disease or breast cancer, or has experienced it herself. Breast health is highly individualized and there are many simple things you can do to keep your breasts healthy throughout your lifetime.
Know Your Risks
There is no one single cause of breast cancer. Determining your risk and understanding what increases it, especially if you are a woman over 50, is the first step in designing a screening and prevention plan. Risk factors for breast cancer include:
Genetic mutations in the breast cancer gene are also cancer-causing. These are caused by:
Statistically, only 30 percent of cancers can be linked directly to genes, estrogen exposure and family history. While there are some risk factors that you can’t control, there are many health and lifestyle factors that contribute to breast health and are modifiable, including:
Talk to Your Doctor about Your Risk
The first conversation you should have with your doctor is about your risk factors and how to determine them. Some methods include blood and urine testing, genetic risk assessment, ultrasound, screening mammography and thermography, and clinical breast exams. Because cancer does not develop overnight; there is opportunity to identify and modify your personal risk factors.
No one single method of testing can diagnose breast cancer, but when used in the appropriate manner, all can be useful methods for early detection and screening.
Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines
New recommendations for breast cancer screening have raised questions for women everywhere. It is important to understand the benefits and limitations of all breast-screening methods including ultrasound, thermography, mammograms and diagnostic MRI, so you can make an informed choice that is right for you.
Screening methods allow us to test for cancer at its earliest stages, often before obvious symptoms develop. There is no perfect screening method that can detect cancer with 100 percent accuracy and some methods can show cancers where there are not, and miss cancers where there are. Regardless, screening is a valuable part of every woman’s health care regimen and can save lives when used appropriately. While all these methods are useful in screening and detection, none are diagnostic.
Mammography: Mammography is an examination of the breasts using a low-dose x-ray that passes through breast tissue to produce a detailed image. This detailed image, taken from several angles, helps to determine the exact location of suspicious areas of breast tissue. Mammograms can most often detect cancers earlier than clinical breast exams.
Thermography: Thermography testing uses a thermal sensor to detect heat and vascular changes in breast tissue. The heat changes are indicative of changes in metabolism associated with precancerous changes. Thermography uses no radiation and can be used in conjunction with mammography for early screening and to monitor breast health over time. Thermography is a functional imaging technique that detects physiological changes. It cannot pinpoint the location of cancers, as can mammograms and diagnostic MRIs.
Know Your Breasts
Having healthy breasts starts with getting to know them. No matter what age you are, it is important to be aware of what your breasts look and feel like and what is normal for you. If you don’t do self-breast exams, ask your doctor how, or visit breastcancer.org to learn. Be sure to take an active part in your breast health and report any changes that are suspicious to your doctor.
You can’t change some of your risk factors for breast cancer, such as your family history or when you started your period. You may be able to change some factors like your diet, estrogen exposure, toxic and chemical exposure, and achieving a healthy weight. Putting your mind at ease begins with doing something every day to reduce your risk of breast cancer.