Reducing your risk of developing breast cancer

By Susan K. Boolbol, MD, FACS  |  12/10/2019

Dr. Susan Boolbol shares some tips on preventative measures and screening recommendations applicable to both women and men.

While there has been debate over what age individuals should have their first mammogram, it is important to remember mammograms save lives. A person of average risk for breast cancer should have an initial mammogram at age 40. To determine your risk, speak with your healthcare provider as to when and how often you should get a mammogram.

Being a woman, aging and family history are the main risk factors for breast cancer. This can be frustrating because these are risks out of our control. However, there are several risk factors we can control.

  • Weight. Being overweight and/or obese is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, particularly for post-menopausal women. Fat tissue is one of the body’s sources of estrogen after menopause, since the ovaries have stopped producing the hormone. An increase in fat tissue equals higher estrogen levels, which may increase your breast cancer risk.
  • Diet and exercise. Studies are looking at the relationship between diet and exercise and lowering your risk of ever getting breast cancer. While more research is needed, there is evidence a diet of vegetables and fruits and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids including fish and flaxseed are important for your overall health. Avoid trans fats, processed meats and charred or smoked food. Along with a healthy diet, try to incorporate between 30 and 60 minutes of physical activity five or more days a week. Exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer.
  • Alcohol intake. Studies have shown drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Alcohol may limit your liver’s ability to control your blood estrogen levels, which can, in turn, increase your risk.

While this disease largely affects women, one percent of all breast cancer diagnoses occur in men. If a man notices changes in his breast or a lump, they should get evaluated by a physician as soon as possible. Treatments for men are similar to women.

Treatments today vary depending on the type of breast cancer you have. The good news is survival rates are higher than they’ve ever been. For example, ductal carcinoma in situ, the earliest form of breast cancer where abnormal cells form in the milk ducts, has a 10-year survival rate of 98 to 99 percent.

I cannot emphasize enough: The earlier we can diagnose breast cancer, the better the outcome for both men and women.

Dr. Boolbol recently joined the Dyson Breast Center at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, now part of Nuvance Health, as Chief of Breast Surgery and the Breast Program. Learn more about her here: