Breast Cancer Prevention Must-Knows for Every Age

Breast Cancer Prevention Must-Knows for Every Age

What your breast cancer prevention plan should be, based on your age.

By: Maressa Brown

With Breast Cancer Awareness month kicking off, you are probably seeing a lot of pink and talk of mammograms. But it may be rare that you get the chance to sit down and dig into what the experts say you should be doing for prevention, depending on your age. Here, the essential to-dos and must-knows for every decade. (Note that your individual needs may vary based on your personal health and family history, so talk to your doctor about what preventative measures are most suitable for you.)

In your 20s: This early on, it’s important to consider environmental factors that may contribute to risk. For instance, you may want to steer clear of foods that come in cans, as most are lined with the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been linked to increased risk and tumor growth. And trying to go organic when you can, since pesticides are also hormone disruptors.

If you require medical radiation for any reason, you may want to talk to your doctor about alternatives, like ultrasound. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, there’s no such thing as a safe dose of radiation.

Depending on your family history and other factors, you might also choose to get tested for BRCA (breast cancer genetic) mutations at this time. If you do test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 -- which are associated with a much higher chance of the disease -- it’s especially important to try to steer clear of X-rays and CT scans.

Meanwhile, you can become more familiar with your body by performing breast self-exams (BSEs) at least once a month. (The best time to do one is when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen.) According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center,

40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.

In your 30s: Younger women more commonly experience fibrocystic breast disease, which encompasses breast pain, cysts, and noncancerous lumps, so it helps to continue doing BSEs to stay familiar with your breasts and what may be normal, advise experts at Johns Hopkins.

Depending on your family history, and other factors that can contribute to risk like obesity and age of your first period, you may want to visit a high-risk, comprehensive cancer clinic for a risk assessment and work with doctors there to come up with an individualized prevention and screening plan.

Because obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer (not to mention other diseases like diabetes and heart disease), sticking to a regular exercise plan, focusing on aerobic activity, through your 30s can help lower your risk. Women who gained 55 pounds or more after age 18 had an almost 50 percent higher risk of breast cancer, compared with those who maintained their weight.

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In your 40s: Most of us have heard our whole lives that we need to start getting annual mammograms after our 40th birthday, but certain groups (like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) in recent years have recommended waiting until age 50. A lot of experts -- including those with the National Cancer Institute -- are still on board with the over-40 recommendation. One in 68 women in their 40s are diagnosed with breast cancer.


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A Norwegian study of more than 1 million women in their 40s found the ones who got mammogram screenings had a 29 percent lower chance of dying from breast cancer than those who didn't. Speaking with your doctor about your individual risk can help you determine how and when to proceed with screenings.

It also bears noting that benign breast cysts (which can be drained or surgically removed) are the most common type of breast lump seen in women in their 40s.

In your 50s: It’s important to continue with your regular mammograms and report any changes or lumps you notice to your doctor in this decade, given that most breast cancers (about 80 percent) occur in women over 50. (A woman’s chance at this age is one in 37.)

And while going through menopause, you may do well to minimize your use of any HRT drugs (especially combined estrogen-progesterone therapies), as its use can increase your breast cancer risk by 26 percent.

In your 60s and 70s: Although the risk of developing breast cancer in these decades is higher than in those preceding it, screening may be more accurate, as well. The reason: Breasts of women over 60 are about half as dense as they are pre-menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is an important motivator for keeping up with annual mammograms into your 60s and 70s.

What preventative measures do you currently take?

Maressa Brown is a senior staff writer for The Stir. She loves writing about and reading up on health/fitness, relationships, and pop culture -- preferably on a beach somewhere.

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