Educating Women on Breast Cancer Risks and Advanced Treatment Options

For more than 30 years, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been recognized each October by thousands of organizations, charities and individuals in order to increase visibility of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. While BCAM certainly shines a spotlight on the disease, this moment should be a catalyst for change to educate women on everything they need to know about breast cancer — from who’s at risk to advanced treatment options now available for patients.

Reducing Your Breast Cancer Risk

More than 60,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer each year. The disease is one of the most commonly detected cancers among American women. While there are lifestyle changes that can be made to limit your breast cancer risk, other factors that cannot be changed — for example, your age or having certain genetic makeup — may also increase your chances for developing the disease. In fact, about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning they result directly from gene defects (mutations) passed on from a parent. While this may sound scary, it’s important to know there are some steps you can take each day to help reduce your risks of breast cancer:

1. Limit alcoholic beverages. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you consume alcohol, limit yourself to less than one drink per day.

2. Do not smoke. This is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Smoking can increase the likelihood of several different types of diseases and cancers, including breast cancer.

3. Get plenty of sleep. Sufficient sleep on a daily basis is essential to healthy living, and studies show that lack of sleep can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. It’s important to get the recommended eight hours of sleep every night.

4. Eat nutritious foods. A lifetime of good nutrition is vital for keeping your weight in check and combating your risk of several different diseases. Women should aim to eat a well-balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins to ensure food is providing your body with the appropriate vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy.

5. Live an active lifestyle. It’s true that women who get regular exercise have a lower incidence of developing breast cancer than women who are not active. The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week to lower overall cancer risk.

[See: 7 Innovations in Cancer Therapy.]

Breast Density and Breast Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Another breast cancer risk factor is related to your breast type and size. Having dense breasts means you have more fibrous tissue than fatty tissue in your breasts, meaning cancerous lesions may be more difficult for doctors to identify. More than 40 percent of women in the U.S. have dense breast tissue. Research shows that women with dense breasts can be six times more likely to develop breast cancer. During your annual mammogram, it’s important to ask your doctor any questions you have related to breast density. Health care providers have access to several innovative advancements that help them better evaluate and score breast density to identify patients who may be at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Interestingly, several states do not currently have laws in place that require women to receive notification regarding breast density following a mammogram, so if you don’t know your breast type and density, speak to your doctor. In addition, it’s important to make sure you are receiving your yearly screenings and are staying informed and educated about your overall breast health.

[See: What Not to Say to a Breast Cancer Patient.]

Innovative Breast Cancer Treatment Options

Despite the shocking statistics related to breast cancer and breast density, it’s important to note that this type of cancer can be easily treated if caught early. Several advancements and revolutionary technologies on the market today provide effective breast cancer treatment options offering valuable benefits for patients diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Intraoperative radiation therapy is a one-day treatment that uses a miniaturized X-ray source to deliver a concentrated dose of radiation directly to a tumor site at the time of breast-conserving surgery ( lumpectomy). The precise treatment option presents significant advantages for women with early-stage breast cancer, including shorter treatment times as compared to traditional radiation therapy, fewer side effects, improved quality of life and overall better outcomes.

Additionally, IORT for the treatment of early-stage breast cancer directly benefits the patient’s health by minimizing their exposure to radiation. Because traditional therapy delivers radiation to the whole breast, it can cause radiation damage to surrounding healthy tissues and critical structures, such as the heart, lungs and ribs. In fact, a recent study found that IORT with the Xoft System is the preferred treatment for early-stage breast cancer as compared to other treatment options, such as traditional external beam radiation therapy, for these reasons. The study also found that as a whole, EBRT exposed patients to four times more radiation than IORT, which translates into greater than 15 times relative risk of longer term complications. IORT treatments are also shorter than EBRT because the treatment delivers a full dose of targeted radiation directly into the tumor bed during surgery, reducing patient side effects. These factors enable patients to return to their normal daily lives more quickly, reducing emotional stress, travel to and from doctors’ appointments, days off work and more.

Treatment with IORT is also more cost-effective and is estimated to save patients more than $10,500 annually compared to EBRT, reducing the direct expenses related to their care. In addition, IORT can save the U.S. healthcare system more than $630 million over the lifetime of patients diagnosed annually with early-stage breast cancer.

[See: A Tour of Mammographic Screenings During Your Life.]

Staying Educated and Informed

Despite your age, health history or family genetics, it’s important for all individuals to be educated and informed about their breast health, including breast cancer risks, screenings and beneficial treatment options. This month during BCAM, I encourage all women to have conversations about breast cancer with your family, friends and loved ones, as well as to schedule your annual screenings. While the topic of breast cancer is certainly top of mind in October, let’s all help each other in ensuring informative conversations are taking place year-round.

More from U.S. News

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What Not to Say to a Breast Cancer Patient

A Tour of Mammographic Screenings During Your Life

Educating Women on Breast Cancer Risks and Advanced Treatment Options originally appeared on usnews.com