Staying informed is key to breast health

October 1, 2018 GMT

Breast cancer is a scary reality for some women. And misinformation can make it even scarier.

Most breast problems are not cancer, but unfortunately, the symptoms of serious and minor breast problems, such as fibrocystic changes and benign lumps, are similar. So women should see their doctor if they observe a change in one or both of their breasts, feel a lump, experience pain or irritation, or notice a discharge from the nipple.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis in women, and age is the biggest risk factor. The likelihood that a woman will develop breast cancer increases from 1 in 1,732 for a 20-year-old to 1 in 26 at age 70. Other risk factors include genetics, use of contraception, family history, obesity after menopause and alcohol consumption.

Cancer screening can reduce cancer deaths by detecting and treating cancers before they spread, as screenings look for signs of cancer in people who have no symptoms. At St. Mary’s, we recommend that women receive a mammogram each year, beginning at age 40. If a woman has a close relative who had breast cancer, she should begin her annual mammograms 10 years prior to the age of diagnosis. For example, if a mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45, her daughter should start annual screenings at age 35.


In addition to annual screenings, women can also take steps to lower their chances of developing breast cancer by maintaining their breast health. The American Institute of Cancer Research reports that 70,000 cases of breast cancer per year, or 40 percent, could be prevented with lifestyle measures.

Some of the best ways to preserve lifelong breast health and reduce your risk of developing breast cancer include: not smoking; maintaining a healthy weight, especially after menopause; eating primarily whole foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy; and exercising.

Improved treatment options — many of which have fewer side effects and are better targeted toward just the breast — have significantly reduced the death rate in women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. And advanced surgical techniques allow breast surgeons to not only remove the cancer, but also achieve the optimal cosmetic result, leaving no visible reminder of the life-threatening diagnosis behind, which improves self-esteem and self-image. We use these techniques at St. Mary’s Breast Center, allowing us to not only concentrate on the cancer, but also on the patient’s wishes to preserve as much of the natural breast as possible.

It’s also important to remember that anyone who is going through or has been through cancer can benefit from some type of support as the cancer journey can feel very lonely. St. Mary’s offers a breast cancer support group, as well as a support group for young adults with cancer, to offer support and encouragement for patients.

This year, St. Mary’s Breast Center is celebrating 15 years of providing compassionate care and support for patients. My colleagues and I look forward to continuing that tradition for many years to come.

Ben Moosavi, MD, is the medical director of St. Mary’s Breast Center and an HIMG board-certified surgeon. For more information on St. Mary’s Breast Center, call 304-526-8221 or visit