Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Know your risk.

Nina Sennott, YW Boston Health & Wellness Manager

Breast Cancer Awareness Month holds a personal significance to me; like so many people, I have family members who battled breast cancer.

When I was nine years old, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and shortly after that, my grandmother was as well. I remember feeling confused but not scared; cancer wasn’t something I could fully comprehend at such a young age. After years of appointments and various types of treatment methods, we were the lucky ones; my grandmother lived until 98 years old, and I give her superwoman caregiver, my mom, so much credit for it. They both battled breast cancer and they both survived.

This isn’t everyone’s reality. Women of color are particularly at risk; while more white women than Black women are diagnosed with breast cancer, Black women have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer among Latina women and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Asian American women. While the risk of breast cancer in trans people is not well known, according to Fenway Health, transgender women who have taken hormones and transgender men taking testosterone may be at an increased risk of breast cancer. Learning about your risk is important; finding breast cancer early increases the chances of treating it successfully. The best way to learn about your risk is to review the risk factors and have a conversation with your doctor.  

You may have risks that you cannot change but are important to be aware of, such as your family history of breast cancer, getting older, inheriting certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, having dense breasts, beginning your menstrual cycle early and starting menopause after age 55. Other risk factors include being overweight or obese after menopause, not being physically active, drinking more than one alcoholic drink per day, and using hormone replacement therapy. It’s important to note that just because you may have one or some of the risk factors does not mean you will develop breast cancer; most women have some risk factors and do not get breast cancer. You can learn more about the risk factors for breast cancer on the Centers for Disease Control website.

You may have noticed that the guidelines around breast cancer screening have changed, which can bring up confusion about when you should get screened, and how often. YW Boston recommends that you review risk factors for breast cancer and talk to your doctor about your personal risk. This conversation can begin at age 40, even if after your conversation you end up waiting until age 45 to get a mammogram. Be sure to share how much physical activity you get, how much alcohol you consume, and what your diet consists of with your doctor. You and your doctor will determine what age is right for you to begin getting your mammogram, and how often you should be screened. View a useful Breast Cancer Screening Chart for women from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

There are many things we can do to reduce our risk for breast cancer: