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Knowing your Risk of Breast Cancer and Confidently Living your Life

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Dr. Nicole Saphier

Breast Cancer / / October 03, 2017

The majority of people are aware that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.  There are several known factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer, with family history being one of them. For many young women with a family history of breast cancer, they find themselves questioning whether or not certain life choices will increase or decrease their risk of developing breast malignancy.   

The truth is no specific action, food or diet will definitively prevent you from getting breast cancer.  In fact, just being an aging woman puts you at the highest risk of developing the malignancy.  But some foods and lifestyle modifications can make your body the healthiest possible, boost your immune system, and help keep your risk for breast cancer as low as possible.

There are lifestyle choices you can make to lower your risk of developing breast whether you have a significant family history of breast cancer or not.  Eating a low fat, Mediterranean diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help lessen your risk of breast cancer.  In addition, limiting alcohol intake, not using tobacco products and restricting processed foods will also improve your overall health as well lowering your risk of breast cancer.

The utilization of birth control, oral contraceptives (OCP) and intrauterine devices (IUD), have become increasingly popular over the years to not only prevent pregnancy but also treat common symptoms of menorrhagia (painful periods) and pain from endometriosis, which subsequently improves the quality of life of many women.  There have been numerous studies dedicated to determining whether or not breast cancer risk is increased with the use of contraception and the current conclusions are that current and recent users of birth control have a slightly higher risk compared to those who are/have not.  However, the slight risk normalizes after 10 years following cessation of the birth control. 

Additionally, women who undergo fertility treatment have a slightly increased risk of some types of cancer though it is still unclear whether the fertility medications or being infertile itself causes this risk.  Taking all of the current research into account, doctors at present recommend women who are infertile can safely have infertility treatments under the management of a physician after they have had a normal mammogram.

Interestingly, women who have recently given birth have a short-term increase in risk presumably from the fluctuation of hormones but this risk appears to decline after about 10 years. Conversely, breastfeeding for at least a year is believed to decrease the risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, the older a women is when she has her first full-term pregnancy, the higher her risk of breast cancer; also, women who are older than 30 years of age when they give birth for the first time have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never given birth.

The fear of developing breast cancer should not paralyze you from living your life especially when it comes to life-altering decisions like having children or alleviating chronic pain.  With routine and high risk breast cancer screening to detect early malignancy plus the modern advancements in medicine, you should acknowledge your risk and screen appropriately and live your life without hindrance.  Keeping a healthy lifestyle is not only beneficial for decreasing your risk of malignancy but it can improve your quality of life. Cancer itself is defined as an “uncontrolled division of cells.” I encourage everyone to keep that in mind.  Make the choices in your life that will give you the greatest chance of happiness. Keep in mind the potential risks associated with some of your choices and make the decision based on your individual preferences.

Categories: Breast Cancer
About The Author
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Dr. Nicole Saphier is a board certified radiologist with specialty training in Oncologic Imaging and a specific interest in Breast Imaging.  Residing in the NYC area with her husband and three sons she is active in healthcare advocacy and legislative policy outside of her clinical and research duties at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she serves as the Director of Breast Imaging at the Monmouth Regional site. Follow her on Twitter! @NBSapbierMD 

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