Four things you need to know about breast cancer


October’s awareness month highlights risks

 “You have breast cancer,”— four words no woman wants to hear. But more than 246,000 are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. It’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of death among women in the U.S., according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Julie Sprunt, MD, and Heather King, MD, breast surgeons at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin discuss four things you need to know about breast cancer.

Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.

1. Know your risk

Approximately one of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime— that gives you a 12 percent lifetime risk for the disease. It is estimated that in 2017, more than 252,000 new cases of breast cancer  will be diagnosed.

Women with a family history of breast cancer have an increased chance of getting breast cancer, but approximately 85 percent of women who are diagnosed have no family history.

“Knowing your personal risk leads to the right type of screening at the right time, helping detect cancer early, when it is most treatable,” Sprunt said.

So, what factors can increase your risks? While several risk factors can play a role in whether you may receive a breast cancer diagnosis in your lifetime, being female and getting older are the two biggest players. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your family history and your personal health history to determine the best time to start mammogram screenings.

2. When to get screened

Having risk factors doesn’t automatically equal a breast cancer diagnosis, but some women are at greater risk than others.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommend yearly screening mammography for all women beginning at age 40 and no later than age 50.

In some cases, screening is recommended earlier.

“Some factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer over her lifetime,” King said. “A strong family history of breast cancer, a history of radiation to the chest for cancer as a child and other factors may lead to more in-depth screening, earlier.”

Women with greater than 20 percent lifetime risk may also qualify for complete breast ultrasounds or breast MRI. Talk to your doctor about what is the best option for you.

3. Early detection can save your life

No matter your risk, early detection through self-exams and mammogram screenings is key to finding cancer early.

“Many times, a mammogram can detect cancer before it can cause any symptoms,” King said.  “Early detection allows for better treatment options and improved survival.”

ACOG also recommends a yearly clinical breast exam by your provider. Recommendations vary on the importance of monthly self-breast exam, but flag your health care provider if you feel there is any change in your breasts.

4. Be Proactive

While you can’t control your genetics, or stop the aging process, you can be proactive in your breast health.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Always use portion control. Limit highly processed foods and opt for lean meats, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.  Make it fun with a walking buddy or crank up some tunes.
  • Don’t smoke and limit alcohol intake.
  • See your doctor regularly for annual well-checks.