October marks the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month, so now is the perfect time to consider getting tested in some form or another. Breast cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers in women—about 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer within their lifetime. However, early detection can greatly increase your odds for fighting against the disease before it spreads and does more damage.
Our women’s health providers at Amy Brenner, MD & Associates recommend that women of all ages go through some form of regular screenings or genetic testing. That way you can catch breast cancer at an earlier stage, making treatment a lot more successful. If you’re in the Cincinnati area, you can always come in for our Myriad MyRisk genetic testing, a blood test determining whether you have genes associated with cancer.
Read on to learn more about the importance of early breast cancer detection and how genetic testing can help.
How does breast cancer form?
As with all cancers, breast cancer stems from a DNA mutation in the cells. For breast cancer, this would start with cells that make up breast tissue. Sometimes these mutations are genetic, passed down from family member to family member. Other times, they may come from lifestyle-related factors such as diet, though it’s not exactly clear how some of those factors turn healthy cells cancerous.
💡 Keep in mind most genetic mutations that may cause breast cancer cases are acquired rather than passed down.
These genetic mutations could cause cells to grow out of control, meaning they don’t listen to the body’s instructions to stop dividing or die when they are supposed to. As these cells continue to spread, they become more and more resistant to bodily signals on how to function properly.
In high-stage cancer, genetically mutated cells can push past the bounds of breast tissue and spread to other areas of the body (called metastasis, meaning “new place”). When breast cancer cells spread, the cancer can become terminal, meaning there are no treatment options to stop the disease.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Each stage of breast cancer (from stage 0 to stage IV) comes with different symptoms. Stage 0 cancer describes non-invasive cancerous cells that don’t spread beyond their original location. Stage IV cancer marks highly-invasive cells that have gone through the metastasis process. Due to the extreme differences in severity, someone with stage 0 cancer will have completely different symptoms than someone with stage IV cancer. Either way, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can for early breast cancer detection to get the most effective treatment options.
Since stage 0 breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), is non-invasive, it is considered precancerous. Early breast cancer symptoms typically don’t arise until stage I when the cancer becomes invasive.
Early breast cancer symptoms include:
- Skin changes such as redness and/or swelling
- Increased breast size or a change in shape within a short period of time
- Sensitivity when touching breasts, including a warm sensation or hardness
- Peeling or flaking nipple
- Small lump within breast tissue
- Pitting in the skin (similar to cellulite or the skin of an orange)
Late stage breast cancer symptoms include (depends on where the cancer has spread):
- Pain and nipple discharge
- Bone complications such as pain and/or fractures
- Tumors in the lungs (causes coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain)
- Extreme fatigue
- Liver damage (causes nausea, abdominal swelling, yellowing skin, hand and feet swelling, etc)
- If it spreads to the brain, cancer may cause confusion, memory loss, headaches, difficulty moving, seizures, etc.
Why early breast cancer detection is important
Early breast cancer detection opens the door for more treatment options. It goes without saying that it’s easier to fight cancer (of any kind) before it begins to spread to other organs and tissues. Early detection also increases survival rates. For example, the five year survival rate for localized breast cancer (hasn’t spread beyond the breast) is 99%. Since early stages may not come with symptoms, you should take steps to get tested even if you feel fine.
You probably are already aware you should self-examine your breasts for any abnormal lumps and get annual mammograms starting at age 40 (if you have silicone breast implants, you should also have MRI scans every three years), but you may not consider genetic testing. While self exams and mammograms are incredibly important for catching breast cancer at its early stages, genetic testing can catch the possibility of getting cancer so you can make proactive steps.
Our Myriad MyRisk Genetic Testing at Amy Brenner, MD & Associates is a blood test that gives you accurate results after only four weeks. One of the main things we look for is inherited changes in BRCA genes, which is crucial for understanding whether or not you’re predisposed for breast cancer. The test also gives you a risk percentage. For example, your family may have a history of cancer but you don’t have the gene mutation, giving you a slight risk but not as high as someone with a mutation.
If you test positive, you are more aware to make efforts to protect yourself. This could include:
- Being more adamant about getting mammograms
- Having your physician examine your breast during regular appointments
- Eating a healthy diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight
- Limiting alcohol consumption (alcohol consumption is linked to breast cancer)
- Breastfeeding your children if you can
- Asking your doctor about prescription medications to lower breast cancer risk (i.e. tamoxifen and raloxifene)
- Breast removal surgery if you have a very high risk for breast cancer
Keep in mind that even if you don’t test positive for gene mutations, you should still strive to live a healthy lifestyle. That is because only a small portion of people with breast cancer get it from inherited gene mutations. Studies show changes in diet and fitness (among other things) are key factors for reducing your risk of getting breast cancer.
If you’re nervous about changing out your lifestyle, our certified wellness coach can help you stay on the right track! We also have a variety of weight loss and wellness programs so your body looks good on the outside and stays healthy on the inside.
How to promote and maintain healthy breasts
Outside of getting tested, there are also a variety of ways to keep your breast tissue healthy. Breast health often derives from an overall healthy lifestyle, so these simple changes could benefit your entire body!
Eat a clean, natural diet
What you put in your body is incredibly important for your overall health. Fill your body with junk 24/7 and you may end up with health conditions you could have prevented. Focusing on clean eating can support your gut health, which is crucial for strengthening your immune system to help with digestion and estrogen detoxification. Plus, a healthy diet can keep your body within an optimal weight range—having a high percentage of body fat is the number risk factor for breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
We recommend choosing organic and hormone-free meat, milk, eggs and produce to limit pesticide exposure and unwanted hormones. It is also beneficial to avoid excess sugar. Elevated blood sugar and insulin levels can increase estrogen, which could lead to breast cancer.
Getting your body up and moving comes with a whirlwind of benefits for both your mind and body. Try to get in at least 150 minutes of cardio and/or strength training each week. Don’t force yourself to participate in activities you don’t enjoy; that will only cause you to stop being inactive. Instead, find workouts that work for you such as yoga, dancing, running, and kickboxing.
Consistent exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, it also helps prevent insulin resistance. As an added bonus, working out releases endorphins, which could help you feel more positive and happy.
Take advantage of supplements to complement your diet
Supplements are a great way to optimize your health and fill nutrient and vitamin gaps you may not get from your normal diet. In fact, some vitamins are difficult to gain from diet alone. Here are some of our recommendations for healthier breast tissue:
- Methyl CPG (1 cap/day)
- Selenium-Iodide (1/day)
- OrthoOmega (1-2 caps/day(
- Vitamin D (50,000IU/week or 5,000IU/day)
- Orthobiotic (1-2 caps/day)
- Fiber Plus (3 caps/daily)
- 7 Day Detox Kit (2-3 times per year)
Focus on healthy estrogen pathways
Unlike unhealthy estrogen pathways (which can lead to breast cancer), healthy estrogen pathways help fight against dementia, osteoporosis, and other health concerns. You can promote healthy pathways by:
- Eating at least one serving of cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, radish) per day
- Taking EstroDim, a supplement designed to support proper estrogen metabolism
Schedule your MyRisk Genetic Testing at Amy Brenner, MD & Associates
For breast cancer awareness month, put your health first. Our health experts provide accurate genetic testing for women of all ages. Plus, with our vast array of wellness programs, we can not only help reduce your risk of breast cancer, but also boost confidence by helping you reach your goals.
We’re here to offer a warm, friendly environment while providing the highest quality surgical procedures and aesthetic treatments to help you look great and feel great. No matter what, we will stick with you throughout your entire journey, because your goals are our goals.
Get started today by using our virtual consultation tool or scheduling an appointment.