It’s probably fair to assume that you’re aware October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Chances are you’ve participated in a 5K walk or run, given a monetary contribution to a foundation or fundraiser, or liked and shared a pink ribbon post on Facebook this month. These are all valuable ways to show and share your support of this cause.

And it’s a worthy cause. It's estimated that over 280,000 new breast cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women behind lung cancer.

This month, I challenge you to not only support Breast Cancer Awareness Month but to take your own awareness of breast cancer one step further. I encourage you to be aware of the risk factors for breast cancer and what strategies you can implement in your lifestyle to reduce your risk.

Breast cancer risk factors include:

A family history of breast cancer.

Inherited genes that increase cancer risk, such as gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Beginning your period at a younger age, before age 12.

Beginning menopause at an older age.

Having your first child after age 30.

Having never been pregnant.

History of breast abnormalities.

Use of postmenopausal hormone therapy, especially if used for three years or more.


Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels.

If you have breast cancer risk factors, I recommend talking with your doctor about ways you can lower your risk and about screening for breast cancer.

While many of the risk factors cannot be modified, you can reduce some. Take steps to live a health lifestyle such as limit your alcohol consumption to less than one drink per day, exercise regularly and control your weight. If you have a higher risk of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend that you take certain medications, such tamoxifen, raloxifene, exemestane or anastrozole, or have surgery to remove of both breasts and ovaries to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer screening

Screening for breast cancer has been considered one of the main reasons why the mortality from breast cancer has decreased by 38% from 1989 to 2014. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends breast cancer screening starting at age 25, with a physical exam and risk assessment every one to three years. It’s then recommended to receive an annual screening mammogram starting at age 40. For higher risk women — those with a significant family history of breast cancer — screening may start at an earlier age, and other screening modalities, like a breast MRI, may be considered.

So, when you see a pink ribbon signifying Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s not only a chance to support those battling breast cancer, it’s an opportunity for you to remind yourself of the risk factors and risk-reduction strategies. The most important prevention steps you can take are to:

Be familiar with your breasts, and promptly report any changes to your health care provider.

Be aware of any cancer history in your family and discuss it with your health care provider.

Follow the screening recommendations pertaining to your age and breast cancer risk.

Stay active and exercise.

By Mina Hanna, M.D., is an oncologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Owatonna.

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