breast cancer risk

Know Your Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

In this week’s installment on Fox 17, we delve into the risk factors associated with breast cancer and proactive prevention strategies with Dr. Diana Bitner. While certain risk factors are beyond our control, one indisputable factor is gender, as breast cancer affects 1 in 9 women over a lifetime. This risk increases as one grows older. Throughout this discussion, we’ll explore how to distinguish between controllable and uncontrollable risk factors, shedding light on effective approaches to reduce the likelihood of breast cancer.

Fact #1: 

Many risk factors are not in our control. The top risk factor for breast cancer is simply having a breast. Another factor is our family’s genetic history. Genetic mutations are inherited, and if you have these mutations, then special screening can be put into place so that if a cancer develops, we can find it early. For some mutations, such as BRCA 1 or 2 or PALS, the risk is high enough that a bilateral mastectomy can be appropriate. Breast density is another risk factor you cannot control, which makes it essential to know you get the correct type of mammogram and not be surprised to have a callback for a close look if you are very dense.

Fact #2:

Risk factors in your control include medical conditions of obesity, belly fat, diabetes, more than seven servings of alcohol per week, and a sedentary lifestyle. Having a diet high in cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli can also reduce risk. Sometimes, women will think because their mom had breast cancer after menopause, their risk increases. However, it could be that their mom had a higher risk of breast cancer due to her medical conditions and lifestyle choices, not genetics. 

Fact #3:

There was controversy over the role of menopause hormone therapy (MHT) in breast cancer. We now have clarity that estrogen does not increase the risk of breast cancer. Women who take bioidentical FDA-approved hormones before getting breast cancer have better subsequent success. Even in women with risk, it can be safe to take hormone medication with good counseling, and new medications exist that can be protective, such as Duavee.

Patient Story: 

Jane had a high risk for breast cancer for several reasons. She had chosen not to have children and had extremely dense breasts (category D). Jane also had high blood sugar, mild obesity with belly fat, and her mom had breast cancer at 50. She saw me for these risk factors and had genetic testing, which was negative. Her hard work with medication and lifestyle changes improved her metabolic health. She also elected to have an MRI, which showed a suspicious change. The lumpectomy showed DCIS, a very early non-invasive breast cancer curable with mastectomy. She was relieved that we found it early and could continue with her life without worrying while becoming healthier in the process!

Health Tip of the Week: 

You have some control over your risk for breast cancer. Take this month of breast cancer awareness to understand your risk level in each category, and list what you want to do differently! Make sure you know of any risk factors and schedule regular screenings such as an annual MRI. Or if your healthcare provider recommends certain medications or surgeries to reduce your risk. Cancer wellness and risk reduction programs exist at several West Michigan locations. If you have questions, know there are answers, and healthcare providers who know what to do with the information.

Watch the full segment.