Coordinated Health

5 Things You Should Do If You Have a Family History of Breast Cancer

By:    October 25, 2018

You’ve probably heard that if someone in your family had breast cancer you should start screenings sooner. But what exactly does “sooner” mean? And what exactly can you do to minimize your chances of getting cancer? Breast surgeon Dr. Cara Guilfoyle offers the following advice for women with a family history of breast cancer.

Start Getting Mammograms Earlier

In general, women with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors should begin getting annual mammograms at age 40 (five years before the American Cancer Society recommends screenings for all women). Dr. Guilfoyle also advises opting for a 3-D mammogram because they provide more extensive imaging.

However, Dr. Guilfoyle says the recommended age to start mammograms can vary a lot depending on the individual, and some women may even begin screenings before age 40. She advises women who have even one family member diagnosed with breast cancer under age 50 to consider getting a risk assessment, which brings us to our next topic…

You May Want to Get a Risk Assessment

A breast cancer risk assessment is a computer model that projects your average risk of developing breast cancer based on factors like your family history of breast cancer, genetics, and age. This information can help your physician develop an individualized prevention and screening plan that makes sense for you. To get a risk assessment screening, schedule an appointment with Dr. Guilfoyle.

You Should Consider Genetic Testing

About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, according to the American Cancer Society. These are most commonly linked to a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene that can lead to cancer growth. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, you should get an evaluation to determine if you meet the criteria for genetic testing.

A strong family history may include:

  • More than one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer
  • A relative diagnosed under age 45
  • A family history of ovarian cancer

Follow a Healthy Lifestyle

While eating your vegetables at every meal and exercising regularly won’t guarantee you’ll never get cancer, it can lower your risk. Try to maintain a healthy body weight, stay physically active, and fill your plate with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit how much red and processed meat you eat and stay away from sugar the majority of the time. 

Breastfeed If You Can

Recent studies have found that breastfeeding lowers women’s risk of breast cancer, especially before menopause. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a broad analysis of research showed mothers who breastfed for a combined total of one year for all children where slightly less likely to get breast cancer than those who didn’t. Breastfeeding for a combined duration of two years doubled the benefit.

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women's health, breast surgery, Dr. Cara Guilfoyle, breast cancer, mammograms