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Think Pink: How to lower your risk for breast cancer

Posted October 18, 2020

Women holding pink ribbon

For decades, October and the color pink have gone hand in hand to promote Breast Cancer Awareness. The universal pink ribbon represents prevention, early detection and treatment — supporting the mission to spread awareness and education.

According to, breast cancer affects one in eight women, and chances are you know someone — a co-worker, a family member, a friend — who has been diagnosed. Other than skin cancer, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in this country.

The good news is there are many ways to lower your risk for breast cancer or catch it in its earliest stages when success rates are higher. Regular screenings and healthy lifestyle choices have been shown to reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer.

That’s why this month — and every month — Summa Health reminds you to “think pink” and take charge of your breast health with our three-step plan.

1. Know your risk factors and lower them

Every woman wants to know what she can do to lower her risk of breast cancer. It’s important to understand your risk is impacted by a number of factors. A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of developing breast cancer. Some risk factors associated with breast cancer cannot be modified, such as your family history of cancer, your gender or your age. Other risk factors — obesity, alcohol consumption or hormonal therapies — you can change.

By choosing the healthiest lifestyle options possible, you can empower yourself and make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible. Risk factors you can control and modify include:

  • Avoiding tobacco products
  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet, reducing sugar, carbohydrates, red meats and processed foods
  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Being physically active
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Getting regular health screenings, including mammograms
  • Considering the risks vs. benefits of hormone replacement therapy and discussing them with your healthcare provider

Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may lower your risk, but it does not mean that you will not get cancer. Understanding your risk for breast cancer starts with a conversation with your doctor about factors in your life that might make you more susceptible to breast cancer.

2. Take our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment

The risk for breast cancer is not the same for all women. Summa Health’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment will help you better understand your individual risk for developing breast cancer.

The test analyzes your individual risk factors using sophisticated breast cancer risk models. These models look at factors such as family history of cancer, age of your first period, height and weight, lifestyle influences and medical history to predict your risk of breast cancer.

Some factors raise your risk for breast cancer, including:

  • Family history of breast and ovarian cancer. Your risk increases if a mother, sister or daughter is diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Genetic mutations. You’re at a higher risk if you have family members with a mutation, especially BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
  • History of abnormal breast biopsy. Atypical cells put you at a higher risk.
  • Dense breasts. Breasts comprised of more connective and glandular tissue and less fatty tissue have been associated with higher cancer risks.
  • A high body mass index (BMI). BMI is based on your weight in relation to your height and indicates if you’re at a healthy weight. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for developing cancer.
  • Increasing age.

Based on your individual risk, your doctor will be able to determine what breast cancer screening is best for you and if you might benefit from genetic testing. Knowing your risk may also motivate you to make lifestyle choices and healthcare decisions to lower your risk and help prevent cancer.

3. Get screened

Early detection remains the most effective weapon against breast cancer. Screenings, such as mammograms and clinical breast exams, are the best methods of detection, in most cases. They can help doctors find and treat several types of cancer early, before they cause symptoms.

By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread and be harder to treat. For many types of cancer, an earlier diagnosis improves the chance of successful treatment and survival.

If you’re in your 20s or 30s, start getting a clinical breast exam annually from your primary care provider or gynecologist. Women over age 45 should an annual screening mammogram and a clinical breast exam. If you’re over 40, or have a family history of breast cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor about risk factors and how often you should have a screening mammogram.

Summa Health offers advanced 3D and 2D mammography for screening and diagnostic mammograms at all of our imaging locations throughout northeast Ohio.

Taking charge of your health is the best first step in reducing your risk of breast cancer. If you have non-modifiable risk factors, it’s more important than ever to control those you can modify. You can help in the fight against cancer.

To schedule a clinical breast exam with a physician or to schedule a digital mammogram, simply call 234.312.5800 or request an appointment online now.

For more information on cancer-screening guidelines, call the Summa Health Cancer Institute at 330.375.7280 or learn more about our cancer services.

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