It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Let me help you figure out a test regime.

October is breast cancer awareness month. Being in women’s health, the risk of all female reproductive organ cancer, including breast cancer, is always on my mind, and something that I am on the look out for in my patients. Patients that I have on hormones are required, by me, to do yearly breast screening, paps, and also urine hormone testing, or I will not continue to write prescriptions for their hormones. These screenings are good guidelines for all women to follow. I know there have been recent changes in how frequently we should be getting paps, and insurance companies are dictating how often we can have other tests covered, but when it comes to your body it is better to be safe.

The statistics of breast cancer are hard to look at, here are some of the more eye opening statistic I found when reading on the website:

  • Approximately 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.
  • In 2014, an estimated 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,570 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
  • About 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in men in 2014. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, aside from lung cancer. About 40,000 women in the U.S. were expected to die in 2014 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989.
  • A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. About 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.
  • About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.

Breast cancer has made an appearance in my family as my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was a younger women. She went through treatment, and had a breast removed to save her life. I grew up seeing her as a strong women who only had one breast. She would wear her bra, and in the side missing a breast she would have her falsie. There were times she would pull the falsie out and throw it at us when we were causing trouble, and there may have been times when I was not quick to return it to her! What I learned from my grandmother is that you are stronger than you think, you can overcome things, and it is important to be active in your health, and testing. There are things I wish I would have been able to ask my grandmother like what type of breast cancer did she have, and at what age was she diagnosed. I wish my family would have talked about it more, but it was back in the day when you did not talk about your health. Thus please talk with your family about your health. Make sure there is a record for your kids, grandkids, and great grandkids so they have an accurate family history.

For my patients who have a family history of breast cancer, I always want to know what type of cancer was found in their family. Was it estrogen positive, what age was the family member when they were diagnosed, and what treatment was done as well as what was the outcome. I encourage my patients with the family history to start being more active at testing, and doing physical exams. Ten years before their family member was diagnosed is a good start for them. This often does not mean starting mammography at this time because as younger women our breasts are more dense, and are harder to see through with the mammography process. But this is where we can look at doing ultrasound, or thermography, and we have to make sure to do a monthly physical breast exam on ourselves.

As they get closer to 40, I do recommend that my patients get mammography. I know there is concern about the radiation, but the amount of radiation that you are getting is similar to, if not a bit less than, what you will get flying once a year. However, I do not think mammography is enough of a look when it comes to breast tissue because I think a multi-faceted approach needs to be done instead. This would include thermography, ultrasound, and physical exams as needed.

I had my first thermography this year, and my plan is to have another one yearly so that I can compare. To me there are some limitations to thermography as often most places that do thermography are mobile, and thus you can only get to them on certain dates. Our breast tissue, and structure will change throughout our period too as hormones play an active role on breast tissue. Because of this hormone influence I often recommend that we do monthly physical breast exams on the Sunday after our period. If you are no longer menstruating then consider doing your exam on the day of your birth each month.

As women, we are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. There are things that we can do to evaluate our risk, to lower our risk, and to keep our breasts happy and healthy. I know I am going to do all that I can to keep “apple and cinnamon” (that is what I call my breasts) happy! If you are concerned about your breast cancer risk, or want to make sure you are doing everything to keep your breast happy, then email or call me (1-415-912-9934), Dr. Anita M. Larrow, ND, to set up a free 15 minute consultation to discuss this.