How women can reduce their risk of getting breast cancer

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

About one in eight U.S. women (approximately 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, according to Even though it is common, there are steps women can take to help lower their risk of developing breast cancer.

There are certain lifestyle modifications that can help reduce women’s risk for getting breast cancer, said Dr. Ami Chitalia, a medical oncologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. The lifestyle changes include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a normal weight — all of which have been linked to breast cancer risk, she said.

A healthy diet is one that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Still, all foods are OK in moderation, Dr. Chitalia said.

“So far, there is no clear link between breast cancer and red meat intake or sugar intake,” she said.

When it comes to exercising to help reduce the risk of breast cancer, Dr. Chitalia recommends at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four or five times a week.

Limiting tobacco and alcohol consumption can also be a good choice when it comes to reducing the risk of breast cancer, Dr. Chitalia said. A study has shown an increased risk of breast cancer with smoking, but in premenopausal women only; however, other studies have shown this may not be true. Still, Dr. Chitalia says tobacco use is linked to other cancers and can complicate healing after a breast surgery.

Heavier consumption of alcohol, considered to be four or more drinks per week for women, has been associated with some breast cancers as well, Dr. Chitalia said.

In addition to lifestyle modifications, it’s also important for women to perform breast self exams and schedule routine mammograms.

“Screening mammograms will not reduce a woman’s risk of developing a breast cancer, but it may help find a cancer at an earlier stage where treatment may be easier to go through and there is a better chance of curing the cancer.”

Dr. Chitalia recommends that women perform breast self-exams on a monthly basis, ideally when their breasts are less tender and there are fewer changes to them — like during a menstrual cycle.

Women who have a family history of breast cancer or a genetic mutation that may predispose them to breast cancer may want to do more to make sure breast cancer is not in their future. Women with a family history of breast cancer should talk to their physician about when to start screenings because they may be recommended at an earlier age than most women.

Women who carry a genetic mutation for an increased risk of breast cancer should work with their physician to determine the best screening and monitoring strategy for them. Also, they should get information about risk reduction surgeries.

There have been numerous patient success stories that Dr. Chitalia’s practice has been a part of, she said. Often women visit their primary care doctor or Ob/Gyn if they find a lump in the shower or during a breast self-exam. The doctor usually recommends the women get a diagnostic mammogram, an ultrasound, instead of a screening mammogram to expedite the process. And from there, the women are referred to Dr. Chitalia’s practice.

MedStar Washington Hospital Center can help reduce a patient’s risk of breast cancer with innovative technology and expert staff, Dr. Chitalia said.

Women also should not delay annual mammography screening during the coronavirus pandemic. The Hospital Center is taking all of the necessary precautions to protect patients and staff, including pre-test COVID-19 screening, personal protective equipment and temperature checks. They have also expanded imaging hours to accommodate patients’ needs.

“We offer state-of-the-art equipment and imaging techniques including MRI guided biopsies, which are sometimes needed and are only offered at select imaging centers. In addition, we offer comprehensive care so that in case something is found, such as a breast cancer, we have a large multidisciplinary team including nurse navigators, radiologists, surgeons, radiation doctors and medical oncologists who focus on breast cancer such as myself,” she said.

“We also have dedicated breast radiologists who have expertise in reading breast imaging such as mammograms and ultrasounds. Above all, our nurses, technicians and staff are kind and caring and aim to make a patient’s experience as smooth and comfortable as possible.”

Read more and listen to a podcast with Dr. Chitalia here.

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