Breast Cancer Awareness Month | Know the Risk Factors, Focus on Screenings

Dr. Rahmi Mowjood, DO, Cucamonga Valley Medical Group

By Rahmi Mowjood, DO

As we usher in the start of a new school year and the coming of Fall, it is important to remind our loved ones about the importance of breast cancer risk and screening, especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Unfortunately, more and more people have either been diagnosed with breast cancer, or know someone who has been affected by this disease. I myself know multiple people, friends and family, who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, so this month’s blog is especially important to me.

While many people are diagnosed with breast cancer without any real risk factors, there are two general risk categories that have been identified — genetic and environmental.

Genetic risk factors can be identified by knowing who in your family has had breast cancer. It tends to predominate in women, and the genetic risk is often seen on a patient’s mother’s side. If someone’s mother, sister, father or child has been diagnosed with breast cancer, especially before the age of 50, then it is considered a risk factor.

Gender is another risk factor, as women are much more at risk to develop breast cancer than men. Also, the age menstruation starts can be a risk, as early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 55) has shown to be a risk factor. Other risks also include obesity and dense breast tissue.

Environmentally, risks are associated with lifestyle. Lack of an active lifestyle, a diet high in unhealthy fats, frequent alcohol consumption, and the use of combined hormone replacement therapy to manage menopause have all been linked to increasing risk of breast cancer. Thankfully, many of these can be addressed with lifestyle changes and different choices regarding health and well-being.

Despite all of this, most breast cancer patients do not have any of these risk factors. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 60 to 70% of breast cancer patients have no connection with known risk factors. Why is this relevant? It means that screening tools are your best defense in early detection and treatment of breast cancer. The two biggest tools that help with early detection are self-breast examinations and mammograms.

At Cucamonga Valley Medical Group, we strongly encourage women to conduct self-breast examinations (SBE) as early as age 30. We recommend aligning these monthly examinations with your menstrual cycle, as breast tissue and texture changes during menstruation can change the palpatory findings of the SBE. Being familiar with one’s breast texture is important as oftentimes changes in tissue or new lumps are first documented by a regular SBE.

Mammograms are the other tool we have in our arsenal to combat breast cancer. Regular annual mammograms starting at age 40 (or younger than 40 if there are sufficient risk factors) are effective in documenting the density of breast tissue and detecting suspicious growths and calcifications.

With screenings and a potent understanding of potential risk factors, we can move forward into Breast Cancer Awareness month with the tools to help in early detection of breast cancer. While there are many people who have been diagnosed with this disease, we can help support them and their ongoing efforts towards a recovery by supporting each other by means of education and early detection.