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Some risk factors for breast cancer are out of your control. Breast cancer is about 100 times more common among women than men, and your risk of developing the disease grows as you age. If you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, you are about twice as likely to develop the cancer than someone with no family history.

Caucasian women older than age 45 are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women of the same age, but African-American women are more likely to die of this cancer. In women younger than 45, breast cancer is more common among African-Americans. If you have had more menstrual cycles because you started menstruating before age 12 or went through menopause after age 55, you have a slightly increased risk.

Managing Risks

The best way to manage risk factors you cannot control is to ensure early detection of any cancer that may form. The American Cancer Society recommends three steps to find breast cancer as early as possible in women without breast symptoms:

• Monthly breast self-exams -- Starting at age 20, women should examine their breasts monthly for any unusual bumps or changes.

• Clinical breast exams (CBEs) -- Women in their 20s and 30s should have a CBE in their physician's office at least every three years, and women age 40 or older should have a CBE every year.

• Mammograms -- Women age 40 and older should have a yearly mammogram, one of the most reliable imaging tests for detecting asymptomatic breast cancers.

Your healthcare professional can help you understand your personal risk factors for breast cancer, as well as any additional screenings or tests that can help with early detection.

Lifestyle Choices Affect Risk

Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk of breast cancer, including:

• Hormone therapy after menopause -- Some women use both progesterone and estrogen in hormone therapy to relieve symptoms of menopause. Known as combined hormone therapy, this treatment can increase your chances of breast cancer for as long as five years after stopping combined treatment.

• Alcohol use -- While women who have even one drink per day have an increased risk compared to non-drinkers, the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.

• Obesity -- Being overweight after menopause increases your chances of getting breast cancer.

• Physical inactivity – Women who exercise as few as 75 to 150 minutes per week saw a decreased breast cancer risk of 18 percent.

Schedule Annual Mammogram

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and serves as a reminder for women to schedule their annual screening mammogram. For women of average risk, the American College of Radiology recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40, with no upper age limit as long as the woman is in good health. Different guidelines apply to women at higher risk.

A screening mammogram can help detect breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages. Patients do not need a referral for a screening mammogram. Check with your insurance provider to confirm coverage for a screening mammogram.

Source: Siloam Springs Regional Hospital

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