October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s not just for women. While it’s true that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer versus just 1 in 1,000 men, men have a higher mortality rate than women – primarily because men are less likely to get it checked early.
So whatever your sex, take five minutes to learn the basics. It could save your life or someone else's.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Research indicates breast cancer is caused by a mix of factors – some traits you are born with, others may be lifestyle choices. Prevention starts with knowing your genetic risk factors and managing your environmental ones.
Risk factors for men and women
- Over age 60
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
- Family history of breast cancer
- Obesity, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle
- Alcohol consumption
- Exposure to radiation
- High levels of estrogen (in men, can be caused by obesity, Klinefelter’s syndrome, liver disease, testicle surgery or some drugs used to treat prostate cancer; in women, can be caused by combined hormone replacement therapy for menopause)
Risk factors specific to women
- Over age 50
- Started menstruation before age 12
- Started menopause after age 55
- Had first child after 30
- Have never been pregnant
Signs of Breast Cancer to Watch out For
It's important to pay attention to your body and talk to your doctor about any of the following changes.
- Lump or thickening of tissue
- Change in the size or shape of a breast
- Dimpling or redness of the skin over the breast
- Inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the nipple (areola) or breast skin
Healthy Habits for Breast Cancer Prevention
The good news is medical science has advanced significantly in the treatment of breast cancer, and if it's caught early, the prognosis is usually good for both men and women. Here are a few ways you can help protect your health.
- Screening. Women 40 and older should have a mammogram every 1-2 years. Regardless of age, women and men with high risk factors should ask their doctor about screenings.
- Self-exams. Once per month, check your breasts for lumps or tissue changes by pressing with the pads of your fingers around the entire breast. Perform this test both standing up and lying down. You should also visually inspect your breasts in the mirror for skin changes. Find more detailed instructions here.
- Limiting alcohol. Avoid drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day.
- Exercise. Get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Talk to a doctor about starting a new exercise regimen.
- Limit hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Discuss the risks and benefits of HRT with your doctor. If therapy is still recommended, opt for the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time.
- Maintain a healthy weight and diet. Rather than trying a fad diet, choose one that has been proven over time. Find what works for you on the list of the top-rated diets from a panel of health experts. The Mediterranean diet currently tops the list as overall best diet.