October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Know your risks, take prevention steps, get screened

Breast cancer is a type of cancer where cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without the normal control. Cancerous tumors in the breast usually grow very slowly so that by the time one is large enough to be felt as a lump, it may have been growing for as long as ten years, according to the American Cancer Society.

Know your risks
Breast cancer can occur at any age, but the risk increases with age. Most breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older.

About eight out of 10 individuals who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. But women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk. Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer almost doubles a woman’s risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about three-fold.

“One of our top priorities is educating women on what they can do to be proactive with their breast health,” said Dr. Jennifer Tessmer-Tuck, OBGYN specialist at Riverwood Healthcare Center. “Knowledge and early detection saves lives. Ask how often you should get screened for breast cancer and follow through with your provider’s recommendation.”

Take prevention steps
There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things you can do that might lower your risk, such as lifestyle choices that are under your control.

Being overweight or obese after menopause increases breast cancer risk. Before menopause your ovaries make most of your estrogen, and fat tissue makes only a small amount. After menopause (when the ovaries stop making estrogen), most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase your chance of getting breast cancer. You can avoid excess weight gain by balancing your food intake with physical activity.

Evidence is growing that regular physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, especially in women past menopause. The main question is how much activity is needed.  The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.

Drinking alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with non-drinkers, women who have one alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have two to three drinks a day have about a 20 percent higher risk compared to women who don’t drink alcohol. The American Cancer Society recommends that women who drink alcohol have no more than one drink a day.

Get screened
Regular mammograms can help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most successful. A mammogram can find breast changes that could be cancer years before physical symptoms develop. Breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast.

The American Cancer Society guidelines for women at average risk for breast cancer are:

  • Women between 40 and 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.
  • Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.

Riverwood offers mammogram screenings in Aitkin with 3D mammography technology in Aitkin and McGregor. For an appointment in Aitkin, call (218) 927-5515; for McGregor, call (218) 768-4011.