Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention Advice

By Dr. Alexis Peraino

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, excluding skin cancer, regardless of race or ethnicity. 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer, which equates to an average lifetime risk of about 12% for women (ACS). Additionally, breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women (CDC). Fortunately, we have improved diagnostic tools to identify breast cancer earlier and have better treatment options than ever before – both of which have contributed to decreasing death rates since 1989. Breast Cancer Awareness Month serves to raise awareness about breast cancer, screening, and prevention. Most importantly, October and breast cancer awareness can be a great reminder to talk with your physician about your personal breast cancer risk and make sure that you are up to date with your annual screening mammogram.  

Most cancer prevention screening guidelines encourage annual screening mammograms for women 40 years of age and older. Depending on your personal risk, there may be other screening options available, so talk to your physician. See the tips below for the latest recommendations on breast cancer screening and prevention.  

How to screen for Breast Cancer?

Screening mammography is the method recommended for early detection of breast cancer in asymptomatic women. It is the only imaging modality proven to significantly lower breast cancer mortality. Fortunately, screening is non-invasive and takes just a few minutes. Women with dense breast tissue can consider additional screening modalities, such as a whole breast ultrasound in combination with their mammogram.    

Who should get screened?

Over the last decade, the guidelines for breast cancer screenings have changed but based on the best current evidence, all women aged 40 - 74 with an average risk for breast cancer should discuss and consider annual screening mammograms with their physician. The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a more individualized and shared decision-making approach regarding when to initiate screening mammograms. However, individuals with above-average risk and significant risk factors for breast cancer should be screened earlier and may need to consider additional modalities. Talk to your doctor and ask them to perform a risk assessment, especially if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Family history of a first-degree relative with breast cancer, multiple family members with breast cancer, or first-degree male relative with breast cancer.
  • Family history of genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Reproductive history of early menses before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases

Does your diet matter?

Absolutely! Eating a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains is associated with optimal health, and a reduction in breast cancer and can help prevent weight gain and obesity.  

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables – more than 5 cups a day
  • Limit your fat intake to no more than 30 grams per day
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Studies have identified an association between all types of alcohol and an increased breast cancer risk

Is family history important?

Yes! About 5 - 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary and can be the result of gene mutations passed on from a parent. Genetic testing can be completed to look for mutations. Talk to your doctor to determine if genetic testing would be helpful for you. It’s always important to understand what genetic testing can tell you and to consider the risks and benefits appropriately.  

What about exercise?  

Regular exercise can reduce your risk of breast cancer by reducing your weight and controlling your blood sugar. Research shows a link between exercising regularly at a moderate intensity for 4 to 7 hours a week and a lower risk of breast cancer! It’s never too late to start exercising and reducing your risk.  

Mammograms and the Covid-19 vaccine – What you need to know:

There is no connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and breast cancer. Initially, based on the data following the vaccine, women were advised to delay mammograms 4-6 weeks following the Covid-19 vaccine to allow the immune system and lymph nodes time to respond to the vaccine and return to baseline. However, the Society of Breast Imaging released updated guidelines in February 2022, and the new recommendation is no delay between a vaccine and a screening mammogram.

So, schedule your mammogram today!