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In Your 30s
Consider having children sooner rather than later. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but having children after 35, or not having children at all, may increase your risk for breast cancer, says Brown.
Breastfeed. If you do have children, breastfeeding your baby for a year or longer reduces breast cancer risk. Having a baby and breastfeeding allows your breast tissue to fully develop and become less susceptible to changes, explains Lee.
Don’t take “It’s nothing” for an answer. Younger women tend to have denser breasts and are more likely to find benign lumps. If you do find a lump, don’t accept a dismissive answer from your doctor, even if it is harmless. “You need to get a diagnosis. It’s not ‘nothing.’ Find out what the benign condition is,” says Katherine Lee, M.D., a breast specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Institute. To get a diagnosis, your doctor may recommend imaging, like a mammogram and ultrasound, then depending on the findings, a biopsy or monitoring the lump over time.
Consider your birth control options. More than a dozen studies involving hundreds of women compiled and reviewed by Komen for the Cure concluded that the risk of breast cancer increased 10 to 30 percent in women taking birth control pills. This might seem like a large increase, but women using birth control pills long-term tend to have a very low risk to begin with. The jury is still out on injected contraceptives, like Depo-Provera, and the birth control patch, but Brown says, “The newer forms of oral contraceptives have smaller amounts of hormones than what were used in these studies, so we’re expecting to find even lower risk.” Though birth control pills have come a long way, Norton says women should consider barrier methods, if possible, and avoid taking any other products that may contain estrogen. As in your 20s, talk to your doctor about what form is best for you.
Know yourself. Being able to recognize changes in your breasts is vital, which means you should know how they normally look and feel. Whether you do this through a Breast Self Exam (BSE), or a more informal process of looking and touching, experts agree that it’s key to know what’s normal for your body. The American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure no longer recommend giving yourself a BSE, since it’s unclear if BSEs improve survival rates. Instead, Komen for the Cure recommends breast self-awareness, which means you should see your health care provider immediately if you notice a lump, hard knot or thickening, swelling, warmth, redness or darkening, change in the size or shape of the breast, dimpling or puckering of the skin, an itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple, pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast, nipple discharge that starts suddenly or new pain in one spot that does not go away. If you are at a high risk for breast cancer, you can get your first mammogram and a breast MRI at 35.
In Your 40s >>
In Your 50s >>