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Each year you are asked to participate in runs, galas, and many other fundraising efforts on national, provincial, and local levels to help raise awareness about breast cancer. These are valuable and important efforts, but what can you do on a personal level to reduce your risk for breast cancer?
Risk factors, symptoms to look for, treatment options, statistics, organizations that can help – there is a lot of information out there and it may seem overwhelming. But, if you take it one step at a time, you will be better prepared to deal with any challenges that come your way. Ultimately, having the best information helps reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
Having a family history of cancer increases your risk of breast cancer. But, even if your family doesn’t have a history of cancer or you don’t know their history, it’s important to be aware of your health. Know your body and watch for any concerning symptoms or signs of cancer. Report any changes to your doctor. Discuss the risks of birth control pills and hormones with your doctor. Breast infections can also affect your cancer risk.
Being overweight or obese, besides being generally unhealthy for you, increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if it occurs later in life, particularly after menopause. A healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can help lower your risk and keep your weight at healthy levels.
Not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, since smoking lowers your quality of life and increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and at least 15 cancers – including breast cancer. The link between smoking and breast cancer risk is particularly important for premenopausal women.
While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. Keep alcohol at moderate levels or lower (a drink a day or less).
Exercise is one of the best ways to maintain both your physical and mental health. Regular exercise decreases stress levels, helps maintain a healthy body weight, reduces the chances of heart disease, and women who are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer.
Regular mammography exams are the best way to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt. Finding cancer earlier means broader treatment options. Women who are screened regularly are less likely to need invasive treatments, have less recurrence, and are more likely to survive if breast cancer is diagnosed. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the death rate from breast cancer has been declining since the 1980s. This is thanks to earlier detection from regular mammogram screening and improvements in breast cancer treatment.
At Mayfair Diagnostics, all of our mammography locations, except Coventry Hills, feature the latest technology that makes the experience more comfortable. This includes the option for patient-assisted compression – a remote control that allows the patient to adjust the level of breast compression during the exam, under the supervision of the technologist.
There are some breast cancer risk factors that women have no control over, but knowing which ones apply to you can help you understand your risk and what you can do to lower it. If you feel you’re at high risk, talk to a doctor or other health professional.
Women with the following risk factors are considered high risk and may be encouraged to start screening earlier and more frequently.
*Dense breast tissue refers to how it appears on the mammogram based on the mix of fatty and fibrous tissue. Women with very dense breasts may require a more personalized screening approach than what is recommended for the general population. This may include both mammography and ultrasound exams.
While the recommendations differ, the ultimate decision rests with women. Understanding the risks and benefits of regular mammogram screening and speaking with your doctor about your medical history is an important first step to decide what’s right for you.
Mayfair Diagnostics has 12 mammography locations, which have all been updated recently with the newest technology. Eleven of our mammography locations feature patient-assisted compression. Coventry Hills has an upgraded mammography system but doesn’t offer patient-assisted compression.
Please visit our breast imaging services page for more information.
Alberta Health Services Breast Cancer Screening Programs (2021) “Breast Cancer Screening.” www.screeningforlife.ca. Accessed May 17, 2021.
Canadian Association of Radiologists (2016) “CAR Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards for Breast Imaging and Intervention.” www.car.ca. Accessed May 17, 2021.
Canadian Cancer Society (2021) “Breast cancer statistics.” www.cancer.ca. Accessed May 17, 2021.
Coldman, A., et al (2014) “Pan-Canadian Study of Mammography Screening and Mortality from Breast Cancer.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. November 2014, 106 (11). Accessed May 17, 2021.
Tabar, L., et al. (2018) “The incidence of fatal breast cancer measures the increased effectiveness of therapy in women participating in mammography screening.” Cancer. Accessed May 17, 2021.