If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, you may be worried that you are also at risk for developing this common disease. People who have many immediate family members may be more likely to get breast cancer, especially at a younger age than normal. Early detection of breast cancer helps to improve the odds for effective treatment and even remission.
Here are some things you can do to help detect breast cancer early if it is common in your family.
1. Self Exams
About once a month, you should take some time to examine your breasts to make sure you don't notice any changes. Besides pregnancy and breastfeeding changes, breast tissue should remain relatively static (small changes during menstruation and ovulation can occur as well). If you notice any hard areas, sore sports, lumps, or changes in shape, book an appointment with your doctor to get a more thorough exam. You may need an MRI or a mammogram to rule out masses that you detect.
People who have a history of breast cancer should also get mammograms. For women with no risk of breast cancer, mammograms aren't needed until middle age. However, for women who have a history, it's best to start younger. You might get a mammogram on a yearly basis beginning as young as forty years old. You can increase your chances of detection by offsetting the mammogram with an MRI, so you have one type of screening every six months.
3. Genetic Testing
People who have many family members affected by cancer can also get genetic testing to help assess their risk. The presence of certain genes can help a doctor to know exactly your chances of developing the disease, and if the changes are high, you might start testing for breast cancer even earlier.
There are some things you can do to help prevent cancer. Eating a healthy diet and staying at a healthy weight can reduce your risk. Smoking increases your chances of getting breast cancer, so if you do smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting. You can also reduce your alcohol consumption. Finally, incorporate regular exercise in to your daily life. Exercise makes it easier to maintain your weight, but it also helps your body to respond better to stress, which can also be a trigger.
For more information on imaging and tests, contact a local breast cancer screening clinic.