If your mother had breast cancer, you have an increased chance of developing it yourself.
Knowing your family history, understanding your personal risk, getting appropriate screening tests and making lifestyle choices are important steps toward good breast health, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
“If breast cancer runs in your family, understanding your risk and how to approach your breast health is important to both your physical and emotional well-being,” says Cheryl Perkins, M.D., senior clinical advisor for the Komen Foundation.
Some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect. Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not get breast cancer.
Family History and Increased Risk
If your mother, sister or daughter has breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease is two to three times greater than a woman without this family history.
However, being at increased risk for breast cancer does not guarantee you will develop the disease. Talk to your provider to discuss your personal risk and his/her recommendations for regular screening. Regular screening usually includes mammography, clinical breast exams and breast self-exam. Additional screening may be recommended depending on your personal risk.
Gene Mutations and Genetic Testing
Only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer is due to heredity reasons.
Genetic testing can determine if you inherited the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which are key in the development of some breast cancers.
However, having a mutated gene does not guarantee that you will get breast cancer. If you have concerns about your family history and personal risk, talk with your doctor about whether genetic testing is right for you.
Taking Preventive Steps-Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices
While some risks, such as being a woman and getting older, are out of your control, others can be managed.
● Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. The general recommendation — based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk — is to limit yourself to less than one drink a day, as even small amounts increase risk.
● Don’t smoke. Evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women.
● Control your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
● Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps prevent breast cancer. Most healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
● Breast-feed. Breast-feeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
● Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer. If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options. You might be able to manage your symptoms with nonhormonal therapies and medications. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works for you and continue to have your doctor monitor the length of time you’re taking hormones.
● Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution. Medical-imaging methods, such as computerized tomography, use high doses of radiation. While more studies are needed, some research suggests a link between breast cancer and cumulative exposure to radiation over your lifetime. Reduce your exposure by having such tests only when absolutely necessary.
● Ensure you have a safety net. Although cancer is a prescribed minimum benefit (PMB) for medical aid schemes, there’s often a sizeable shortfall, which is where gap cover may play an important role. However, according to legislation, gap cover is capped at an overall annual limit of R157,000 per person. Although severe illness cover pays per health event and not per treatment it can help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses and other unexpected costs – from a new wardrobe, to alternative therapies, counselling and full-time care. It’s worth investigating severe illness cancer cover, gap cover and income protection.