What is Breast Health?

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. When you are proactive with your breast health, caring for your breasts does not have to be overwhelming. We want to provide you with the knowledge to help make informed decisions. Early detection, healthy lifestyle choices, and understanding the various signs of breast cancer are all important factors when it comes identifying your personal risk for developing breast cancer.  While we cannot prevent breast cancer, we can ensure women have the tools and education to take charge of their breast health.

Improving Your Breast Health:

  • Drinking alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. It is best not to drink, but if you do, limit consumption to one drink per day.
  • Refrain from tobacco use as it accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States.
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Try to stay at a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
  • Evidence shows that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Some studies show as little as a couple of hours a week may be helpful, but in this case, more is better.
  • Not having children or having a first child after age of 30 can increase your risk of breast cancer.
  • Breastfeeding may slightly reduce your risk of breast cancer, if continued for a year or more.
  • Birth control with certain hormones may increase your risk. Speak with your provider to determine the best choice for you.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often used to relieve menopausal symptoms and to prevent osteoporosis. Talk with your provider to discuss the potential risk and benefits.

Understanding Your Breasts: Normal Breasts vs. Dense Breasts

On April 1, 2013, the state of California became the fifth state to enact a dense breast notification law (Senate Bill 1538). This law requires physicians to inform patients if their breasts appear dense on mammography. It was enacted to raise awareness about dense breasts, but also raises questions about the relevance of breast density and what recommendations we should make to patients.

Women’s breasts are made up of three different kinds of tissue:

  • Fibrous tissue holds the breast tissue in place
  • Glandular tissue is the part of the breast that makes breast milk
  • Fatty tissue fills the space and creates the shape and size

Breast density reflects the amount of fibrous and glandular tissue compared with the amount of fatty tissue. If a mammogram shows mainly fatty tissue with just a few fibrous areas, you are considered to have low density breasts. Breasts with more fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue are considered to be high density breasts.

So why is it important to understand breast density?

Women with extremely dense breasts have an increased chance of getting breast cancer. Fatty tissue appears black on a mammogram while dense tissue appears white. Unfortunately, suspicious masses, such as tumors, appear white, as well. Because of this, there is the possibility of an area of concern being missed on mammogram if an individual has extremely dense breasts.  However, with the development of the Tomosynthesis “3D” Mammogram this risk is much lower since the device is better at spotting abnormalities in dense breasts.

Who is more likely to have dense breasts?

  • Younger women
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Women taking hormone replacement therapy
  • Women with a lower body weight

Talk to your physician to discuss if you may have dense breasts. It may be recommended that you have a breast ultrasound or MRI in addition to your annual screening mammogram.

What should you look for in a self-breast exam?

It is very important to get to know your own breasts. By doing a self-breast exam once a month, you may discover changes and be able to alert your physician before your next yearly screening.

Be sure to schedule an appointment with your provider if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Change in the size or shape of your breast
  • A lump or hardening of your breast
  • Swelling, redness, darkening, or warmth of your breast
  • Rash, lesions, or dimpling of the breast
  • Focal pain on one of your breasts
  • Nipple discharge or new onset inversion of the nipple

Experiencing symptoms or have concerns?

If you have any questions or concerns about breast cancer or breast health, please schedule an appointment with one of our providers today.

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Spread the word and raise awareness during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, all while socially distancing!

About the Author

Tara Kays, RN, MSN, FNP-C, CBEC

Tara Kays, RN, MSN, FNP-C, CBEC is a Breast Specialist in the Breast Health Clinic at the Margie Petersen Breast Center. Tara specializes in benign breast disease, women’s health, and clinical breast exams. Learn More About Tara Kays, RN, MSN, FNP-C, CBEC.

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