Breast Health Saves Lives

by Dr. Jon Avery Go

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in females across the United States, and it is the second most common cause of death in women.

However, a common misconception is that breast cancer only affects females– instead, it is only more common. Cancer doesn’t discriminate and can affect both men and women.

Around half of breast cancers are caused by known risk factors. A few key elements are increasing age, with the highest number of breast cancer cases found in those 70 and older. Breast cancer also occurs 100x more frequently in women than men.

In the United States, the highest cancer risk is among white women, although breast cancer is still very common among women of every major racial group.

Risk factors that increase the risk of breast cancer include obesity (a BMI higher than 30), women with dense breast tissue seen on mammograms, women with a high bone mineral density, and higher hormone levels, specifically estrogen.

Also, oral contraceptive use can briefly increase the risk. Other risk factors include an early onset of menstruation (before 13 years old), a late onset of menopause, and women whose first pregnancy comes after the age of 35.

A person who is previously diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast is also at high risk of developing invasive breast cancer in the other. Lastly, a positive family history of breast cancer and inheritance of genetic mutations increases the overall risk of breast cancer.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump in the breast area or underarm.

Any sudden or unexplained changes in breast appearance should also be checked out. Unusual nipple skin changes, inversion, or discharge is also a common sign.

Lastly, breast pain. Generally, breast cancer is not painful, however, any consistent discomfort should be discussed and examined by your healthcare provider.

Ways to lower breast cancer risk include limiting alcohol intake, avoiding smoking, and increasing physical activity. For women who have recently given birth, breastfeeding (if able) helps lower the risk of breast cancer.

For postmenopausal women, weight loss and a low-fat diet also help decrease the risk of breast cancer. 

The United States Preventive Services Taskforce (USPSTF) recommends that women start screening for breast cancer at 40 years old and get screening mammography every other year from ages 40 up to 74 years old.

According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early and is in the localized stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 99%.

Breast cancer screening and early detection saves lives. 

DR. JON AVERY GO is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician.  He practices as a primary care doctor at the Primary Care Clinic of Hawaii.  

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