A Healthy You: Prevention and Screening
Complete Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer screening involves these components for women at average risk for developing breast cancer:
- Be breast self-aware: Know what is normal for your breasts and be aware of changes. If you notice a change in your breast, see your health care provider to have it checked out.
- Have regular screening mammograms: Screening mammograms are is the main test to screen for breast cancer in women who have no known breast problems. Learn more about who should have screening mammography
- Dense Breast Tissue: What you should know about dense breast tissue and mammography.
Know Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer
It is important to know your risk of developing breast cancer. Most women are at average risk for breast cancer, but some are at intermediate risk and others are at high risk. The exact definitions for who is at intermediate vs. high risk remains under evaluation at UW Health and nationally. Risk factors include, but may not be limited to:
- A history of breast or ovarian cancer on either side of your family (mother's or father’s side). The amount of risk increases as the number of family members with cancer increases, especially if the cancers occur at an early age.
- A family history of certain genetic mutations. The most well known are BRCA 1 and 2, but with new genetic testing, other mutations are being identified that also have strong associations with breast cancer.
- Prior history of chest wall radiation for treatment of disease
- Increasing age
- Never having been pregnant
- Having a first pregnancy later in life
- Going through puberty earlier in life
- Going through menopause later in life
- A diagnosis of atypical or abnormal cells on a breast biopsy; inclusive of Atypical Ductal or Lobular Hyperplasia (ADH or ALH) or Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (LCIS)
If you believe you have a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer, the UW Health Breast Center PATHS Clinic can work with you to develop a personalized plan for screening and surveillance that may in addition to the above screening components include other methods of screening, such as breast MRI or more frequent imaging and clinical breast exams.
Prevention: Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer
In addition to knowing your personal risk for breast cancer and getting complete breast cancer screening, you should know what lifestyle factors have an impact to help prevent breast cancer. Studies show that the following healthy habits and lifestyle choices can reduce your risk for breast cancer:
- Avoid the long-term use of hormone replacement therapies. This includes especially oral and transdermal HRT. There is limited to no data about the safety of "bioidentical estrogens," though they are marketed to women as "safer." The use of hormone replacement therapies is likely safe for many women around the time of menopause, but needs to be discussed in the context of a woman's risk for breast cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause
- Get regular exercise, in at least moderate amounts
- Limit your intake of alcohol. Generally, an average of ½ serving per day or less is recommended.
Additionally, women with enough risk for developing breast cancer may benefit from medications such as tamoxifen or exemestane. The providers at the UW Breast Center PATHS Clinic can help determine if such a medication would be right for you.
At UW Health, see our programs in Health and Wellness to help you achieve your goals and do all you can to prevent breast cancer.