Breast cancer prevention strategies from Shazah Khawaja, MD, of NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center of Santa Rosa

Shazah Khawaja, MD, FACOGDuring October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center wants to empower women with knowledge that leads to healthy choices. “We believe that when a woman understands the facts about breast cancer she becomes empowered to take the necessary steps towards prevention. By working to detect the disease in its early stages, a woman is able to make lifestyle changes to reduce the odds of developing the disease in the first place,” explains obstetrician & gynecologist Dr. Shazah Khawaja, MD.

Despite decades of pursing an all-out cure and national efforts aimed at education and prevention, breast cancer remains the most common cancer among women in the United States, second only to skin cancer. Today millions of women are surviving the disease, thanks in part to early detection, improvements in treatment and by enacting healthy lifestyle choices.

The first step in staying healthy

Experts agree that the key to not only surviving a breast cancer diagnosis, but to thriving for years afterwards is early detection followed by early treatment. Routine breast exams and general awareness of how to maintain breast health are both important elements in staying healthy. Practitioners at NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center encourage routine screening including regular self-breast exams, breast checks during annual gynecologic exams, and screening mammography – all approaches that help to detect breast problems early-on.  “I routinely tell my patients that when we have the opportunity to catch and treat breast problems early, we have a better shot of ensuring the treatment will be successful,” says Dr. Khawaja.

Understanding breast cancer risks for better outcomes

Although a having a higher risk for developing the disease may be frightening, it is also true that women who have one or more risk factors for developing breast cancer, never actually develop the disease. With increased awareness about the risk associated with certain factors — particularly those that revolve around lifestyle choices that can be changed — women of all risk levels can become empowered to make better choices.

Some risk factors such as age, genetics or race obviously cannot be changed. Other factors including environment, can also be difficult to modify. While some factors influence risk more than others, a person’s risk for developing breast cancer can change naturally due to aging and by making certain changes in habits and daily practices.

According to the American Cancer Society there are several factors that can affect a woman’s breast cancer risks. They include:

  • Having children after age 30
    Shown to increase the risk of breast cancer in some cases.
  • Birth control
    Oral and injectable contraceptives stand out in studies as contributors to breast cancer.
  • Alcohol consumption
    The more consumed, the higher the risk.
  • Weight
    Women who carry extra pounds have a higher risk for developing breast cancer, primarily due to the higher insulin levels that accompany obesity.
  • Smoking
    Evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women.

Known factors that lower risk

Researchers continue to pursue the link between diet and breast cancer risk and many studies actually indicate that diet does play a role. More and more studies cast a wary eye towards red meat consumption, and there is an increased risk associated with high-fat diets, which perpetuates weight gain and obesity (a known breast cancer risk factor).

There may be sure way to prevent breast cancer as of yet, but there are things women can do to help lower the risk. A short list of actions includes:

  • Breast feeding
    For women who breast feed for 1.5 to 2 years, studies suggest that there may be some benefit in reducing breast cancer risk.
  • Physical activity
    A growing body of evidence indicates that a person’s risk of developing almost any cancer, particularly breast cancer, is reduced by adopting a daily routine of physical activity. For example, as little as 1.25 hours of moderate physical activity per week may reduce the risk by up to 18 percent according to some studies.
  • Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy
    Combination hormone therapy for more than five years is known to increase the risk of breast cancer. If you and your healthcare provider decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose possible.

How OB/GYN providers can help

Self-check breast exams are easy to perform in the home and should be conducted monthly in addition to annual breast exams with a physician at NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center. Depending on a patient’s age and individual health, we may recommend a more frequent interval of regular check-ups with a health care provider. And of course, if you suspect a breast health problem contact a provider immediately.

About NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center

The NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center was conceptualized to bring comprehensive obstetrical and gynecological care to Sonoma County. Experience the NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center up close and personal. As women, we play many roles in our life and take care of so many individuals. Allow our esteemed team to take care of your needs. It is our goal to empower women in their journey to achieve safe, excellent obstetric and gynecologic healthcare. NCMA Women’s OB/GYN Center strives to better the lives of all women with a holistic approach to women’s health. To learn more visit our website or call for an appointment at 707-579-1102.