Breast Cancer Information and Awareness

Published: September 28, 2022
Melody Berg
By Melody Berg, PharmD, MPH, BCPS

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women after lung cancer. However, if caught early, you can improve your chances of survival. A pharmacist expert provides information about breast cancer risk factors and proper screening techniques.


Who is at risk for breast cancer?
Breast cancer risk can be associated with certain lifestyle factors such as alcohol use, being overweight, not being physically active, not having children or breastfeeding, using birth control or menopausal hormone therapy, or having breast implants.


Other risk factors are things that you can’t control such as being born a woman, advancing age, having certain genetic factors or a family history of breast cancer, taller height, starting your period at an early age or going through menopause later, having dense breast tissue, and having radiation to your chest.


Many of these factors cannot be changed. However, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting alcohol use can help reduce your risk.


If you know someone in your family who has a history of breast cancer or has a genetic mutation associated with breast cancer, you can talk to your doctor about genetic testing.


When and how do I screen for breast cancer?
Finding breast cancer early can help keep it from resulting in death. Early and regular screening is important for all women, but it differs based on whether you are considered average risk versus high risk.


Historically, self-breast exams and clinical breast exams were recommended routinely for screening but have recently now been shown to be effective at detecting cancer. If you notice a lump or nipple discharge or any other changes in your breast tissue, don’t panic but call your doctor to have it evaluated.


Mammograms (a test that uses x-rays to create images of the breast) are the best tool to detect breast cancer. If a woman is determined to be at average risk of breast cancer (no family history or genetic mutation or self-history associated with breast cancer), an annual mammogram can be done starting at age 40, if they choose to have one, but is recommended every year for women ages 45 to 54 years and then every 2 years after that.


If a woman is determined to be at high risk (prior history of breast cancer, family history or genetic mutation associated with breast cancer), a mammogram and a breast MRI are recommended yearly typically starting at age 30.


Treatment of breast cancer
Breast cancer treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, how far it has spread, and the presence of genetic mutations. Treatment can involve radiation, surgery, systemic therapy including chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of any or all of these.


Talk to your pharmacist about any medication questions you may have as you go through treatment. Pharmacists are there to help make sure your medications work safely and effectively for you!


Can breast cancer be prevented?
A lot of the risk factors you cannot change. However, you can reduce your risk by making sure you achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reduce alcohol use.


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