For Your Health
Your Breast Cancer Questions Answered
The threat, reality and what you can do to help prevent it
-Lissa Rankin, M.D., Betty’s OB/GYN on Call
I’m in my early 30s, how real of a threat is breast cancer?
LR: I know it seems like every young woman you know is getting breast cancer, but the truth is that breast cancer in your 30s is still very rare. According to the National Cancer Institute, the breast cancer risk for women 30-39 is 0.43 percent (often expressed as “1 in 233”). So while that’s a real risk, it’s significantly lower than a woman 60-69, whose risk is 3.65 percent (or “1 in 27”). So why do we always hear this scary statistic that one in eight women will get breast cancer? That is the lifetime risk of a woman, if you add together the risk for each decade of life, that’s what it adds up to. So the longer you live, the higher the risk. By the time you’re 90, there’s a 1 in 8 chance you will have gotten breast cancer. But if you make it to 90, more power to you, sisters! So don’t worry. Be cautious. Get screened, and surrender the fear. It’ll only drive you crazy.
Why does it seem like some areas of the country have higher rates of breast cancer than others?
LR: Because they do. The area where I live (Marin County in the Bay area) has one of the highest per capita breast cancer rates. Why? We’re not sure. Multiple factors have been considered. Is it because women in this affluent area wait longer to have children or and have fewer pregnancies? Is it because we live so close to wine country that we drink more wine? Do we have a higher prevalence in our genetic make up of the BRCA gene that increases breast cancer risk? Is there something in our environment? It’s being studied, but we haven’t figured it out yet.
Is breast cancer contagious at all?
LR: No. Not in the least. While some cancers are caused by infections, such as cervical cancer, which is usually caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV), breast cancer does not appear to be related to any infections.
Is there anything you can really do to prevent breast cancer, or are you just destined to get it or not get?
LR: Here are some things you can do to decrease your risk
Modify Your Lifestyle
• Avoid drinking more than one glass of alcohol per day. If you do drink alcohol, make sure you supplement with folic acid.
• Limit red meat
• Avoid fried foods
• Manage stress in healthy ways
• Eat organic foods to reduce exposure to environmental estrogens
• Increase flaxseed – add to salads or smoothies
• Consume whey protein- drink protein shakes with whey
• Increase soy products
• Increase ginger consumption- add ginger to soups, teas and other foods
• Add turmeric (curcumin)- add this spice to meats or other foods, or dissolve in hot water to make a drink
• Drink green tea
• Eat pomegranates or drink pomegranate juice
• Increase dietary fiber
• Exercising more than six hours of strenuous activity/week decreases breast cancer risk
• Wearing bras, particularly constrictive underwire bras may increase breast cancer risk by reducing lymphatic drainage
Consider taking supplements to help prevent breast cancer
• Fish oil (DHA/EPA)
• Conjugated linoleic acid
• Vitamin E
• Vitamin D
• Coenzyme Q
• B complex vitamin
• Vitamin B12
• Mammography every one to two years from 40-50, then yearly after 50.
• If you have a mother or sister with a history of breast cancer, start screening with mammography five years younger than the age of your first degree family member at the time of diagnosis (or at age 40, whichever comes first)
• Breast thermography, added as an adjuvant to mammography or used when you’re younger than 40, may add additional benefit to breast cancer screening by picking up the increased heat that accompanies new blood vessels that feed breast cancers.
• If you have first-degree family members who were diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause, you may want to consider seeing a genetic counselor to discuss BRCA testing (the breast cancer gene), which is a controversial and difficult decision-making process.