12 FAQs About Breast Cancer

Author: Kay Jurica

I was talking to someone recently who shared a story about a mutual, senior friend of color that has battled breast cancer more than once. The woman had endured radiation treatments and chemotherapy with her first bout with the disease in one breast, but she was hopeful that her recent diagnosis would be her last because she chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy to prevent cancer from impacting her healthy breast.

I can only imagine how scary it is to receive a breast cancer diagnosis, and how even more frightening it would be to face a single or bilateral mastectomy! I have an enormous amount of respect for women in these situations and those who do whatever it takes to beat breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I think it’s very important to stay informed about the disease by reviewing 12 of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Can physical activity reduce the risk of breast cancer?

Exercise boosts the immune system and helps you to keep your weight in check. With as little as three hours of exercise per week, or about 30 minutes a day, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. This doesn’t require going to a gym either. Power walking is more than sufficient!

Can a healthy diet help prevent breast cancer?

A nutritious, low-fat diet (30 grams of fat or less) with plenty of fruits and green and orange vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.

Does smoking cause breast cancer?

Smoking is a confirmed risk factor for many types of cancer. Research in 2012 confirmed that smoking is a contributing risk factor for developing breast cancer. Additionally, secondhand smoke is also a risk factor for cancer. Smoking also directly contributes to heart and other lung diseases, too.

Can drinking alcohol increase the risk of breast cancer?

Moderation is key. One drink per day has been shown to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. Having more than one drink per day has shown to be a more significant risk factor. Although we know that more than one drink per day increases risks, to date there are no studies that demonstrate directly that the more a person drinks, the greater their risk for cancer. And in some cases, drinking one glass of wine a day can offer a heart-health benefit.

Is there a link between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer?

Yes, there is. HRT was added to the carcinogenic list by the American Cancer Society in the early 2000s. It is recommended that women with known risks not be placed on HRT to control menopausal symptoms. They should instead seek other safer alternatives.

How often should I do a breast self-exam (BSE)?

Give yourself a breast self-exam once a month. Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, feeling a palpable lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple. If you discover any changes, see your doctor immediately.

Does a family history of breast cancer put someone at a higher risk?

Although women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically, only 5-10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.

Are mammograms painful?

Mammography does compress the breasts and can sometimes cause slight discomfort for a very brief period of time. If you’re experiencing an unreasonable amount of pain or discomfort, ask your mammographer if adjustments can be made. Your doctor may say it is fine to take acetaminophen an hour before the x-ray is performed to prevent discomfort too.

What kind of impact does stress have on breast cancer?

In 2012, some research studies have shown that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter immune system functions, and when immune functions are altered cancer cells may have an opportunity to get themselves established within one’s body. Therefore, identifying ways to keep your stress level in check is wise.

How often should I go to my doctor for a check-up?

You should have a physical every year which should include a clinical breast exam. If any unusual symptoms or changes in your breasts occur before your scheduled visit, do not hesitate to contact your doctor. They might recommend a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound be done.

Is dairy (milk) linked to a higher risk of breast cancer?

There is limited evidence suggesting that higher intakes of dairy milk were associated with greater risk of breast cancer. A recent study (2020) suggests drinking dairy milk increases the risk of breast cancer. The link was clearest with milk calorie intake, with a 50 percent increased risk of women among the top 10 percent of milk drinkers compared to those among the bottom 10 percent. Risk was similar for both full-fat and low-fat versions and pre-menopausal and post-menopausal cases.

Is hair dye linked to a higher risk of breast cancer?

Researchers have been studying the possible link between hair dye and cancer for a long time, but results have been inconsistent. A recent study, published by the National Institutes of Health in 2019, suggests that breast cancer risk increased with more frequent use of these chemical hair products. This study found that women who use permanent hair dye and chemical hair straighteners have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who don’t use these products.

My senior friend has been raising two of her grandchildren for many years, and she’s been doing it alone since her husband died several years ago. Since her bilateral mastectomy, her son has taken some time off work to help his mom and take care of the boys while supporting her during her recovery.

If you or someone you know is receiving treatment for breast cancer or is recovering from surgery to remove breast cancer, Home Helpers® Kankakee can provide assistance and support to help make their life easier. Our team of compassionate caregivers is highly trained and skilled to help with personal care, homemaking services, grocery shopping, meal preparation and so much more.

I am happy to offer a FREE Assessment to discuss needs and recommend specific in-home care services we can provide to help you or your loved one who is navigating the challenges that come with breast cancer treatments and recovery.

Home Helpers® Bourbonnais/Kankakee/Frankfort proudly serves male and female seniors in Beecher, Bourbonnais, Bradley, Dwight, Frankfort, Kankakee, Manteno, Mokena, New Lenox, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Tinley Park, Watseka, Wilmington, and surrounding areas. Contact me today to learn more about the many services offered through Home Helpers® - We are Making Life Easier℠ for you and yours! (815) 427-4238


National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

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