What Does High-Risk Mean?

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One in eight women will face breast cancer during her lifetime. Despite the reality of this statistic, there's a lot women can do to lower their chances of getting breast cancer—and beat the odds if they are diagnosed.

Still, what can you do if you have a family history of breast cancer or feel you're otherwise at high risk? The first step is empowering yourself with the right knowledge. To help you learn more, Dr. Barb DePree of Lakeshore Health Partners-Women's Health offers answers to some key questions.

What does it mean to be at high risk for breast cancer?

Having several risk factors for breast cancer doesn't mean you will get the disease. It means your chances of being diagnosed are higher than individuals who have fewer risk factors, and you should discuss this with your health care provider.

What puts women at higher risk for breast cancer?

While only 10 percent of breast cancer occurs due to hereditary factors, a strong family history of the disease does raise your risk. Other factors known to increase risk include:

  • Age. (Growing older increases your risk.)

  • Personal history of breast cancer.

  • Past abnormal breast biopsies.

  • Dense breast tissue.

  • Radiation exposure.

  • Early age at first period.

  • Later age of menopause.

  • No pregnancy or older age (over 35) at first pregnancy.

  • Postmenopausal hormone treatment.

What can women do to decrease their risk of breast cancer?

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is a great stride toward prevention. That means:

  • Eating well. Enjoy lots of fruits and veggies, limit meats and whole-milk dairy products, choose high-fiber and plant-based foods, opt for healthy fats (e.g., cold-water fish, olive oil, avocados, flaxseed), and avoid processed foods and refined grains, flours and sugars.

  • Drinking alcohol in moderation. (No more than one drink per day.)

  • Exercising at least 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week.

  • Quitting smoking. Smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women.

  • Talking to your health care provider about what you can do to boost your vitamin D level. (Many people are vitamin D deficient.)

  • Maintaining an ideal body weight. Obesity puts women at greater risk for breast cancer.

  • Keeping up on screenings. Check your breasts, have a professional breast examination yearly and receive an annual mammogram after age 40.

What can women do if they know they're at high risk of developing breast cancer?

Holland Hospital's High Risk Breast Clinic can go over additional prevention strategies with you, as well as provide expert evaluation and monitoring to help reduce your breast cancer risk or diagnose the disease at its earliest (and most treatable) stages.

BarbDePree HeadshotDr. Barb DePree is an OB/GYN who is a Certified Menopause Practitioner and also holds special certification in Cancer Risk Assessment.


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