With COVID-19 garnering most of the medical attention this year, other health and wellness issues may have fallen by the wayside. This includes preventative care such a mammograms and yearly well-woman exams, two of the most important appointments adult women should make and keep.
Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. Currently, there is a one in eight, or 13 percent, chance that a woman in the United States will develop breast cancer sometime in her life. Men aren't exempt either — even though their risk of this type of cancer is low, it's certainly not non-existent.
So even though Breast Cancer Awareness Month is typically October, it's not a bad idea to think pink a little early this year.
In the meantime, be aware of these common risk factors:
- Being overweight. Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause.
- Not exercising enough. Evidence is growing that physical activity in the form of exercise reduces breast cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends 45-60 minutes of intentional physical activity five or more days a week.
- Heavy alcohol intake. Compared with non-drinkers, women who consume one alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2-5 drinks daily have about 1.5 times the risk of women who drink no alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is also known to increase the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver.
- Not having birthed a child. Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk, whereas having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at a young age reduce breast cancer risk. Pregnancy reduces a woman's total number of lifetime menstrual cycles, and therefore exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
You'll also find out how race impacts a woman's chances, and why it's so important to perform breast self-exams in addition to having a clinical exam from your doctor.
And speaking of doctors, it's important to discuss with yours when you should begin receiving mammograms. Depending on family history and density of breast tissue, it might be earlier than the common rule of 40 years old.
Once you take Methodist Health System's free risk assessment, you can opt to receive a personalized report with information about your health, periodic health-related emails, and a free screening and consultation by a certified clinician (only available to higher-risk individuals).