Recognizing the Risks of Breast Cancer


Brooke Jemelka, MD OB/GYN, Caritas Women’s Care St. Luke’s Medical Group Sugar Land

When I perform annual well-woman exams, I talk to my patients about breast cancer awareness. Women should do breast self-examinations to be aware of how their breasts normally feel and look. If they notice any changes, such as lumps, discharge or other abnormalities, they should seek medical attention immediately. They shouldn’t wait until their next well-woman exam a year later.

Breast cancer has both modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors. Also, it’s important to know that the disease can ultimately affect a woman’s chance to conceive in the future.

Modifiable Risk Factors

Some breast cancer risk factors are modifiable, like eating a healthy diet, maintaining a good weight, lowering the amount of alcohol intake, not smoking and being physically active. A higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity are associated with postmenopausal breast cancer. Be sure your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables. The American Cancer Society recommends 45 minutes of physical activity at least once a day for five or more days a week. By taking care of themselves physically, women can decrease certain risks of breast cancer.

Breastfeeding is also a modifiable factor. Planning for the first birth prior to age 30 or breastfeeding for at least six months after delivery can decrease the risk of breast cancer. Avoid or limit hormonal therapy during menopause.   

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors

Gender, genetics, age, race and personal history are non-modifiable risk factors of breast cancer. It’s estimated that five to 10 percent of breast cancers are due to heredity and genetic defects inherited from their parents.

Women with the breast cancer gene BRCA1 or BRCA2, or who have a strong family history of the disease, have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease. All women should discuss guidelines for breast cancer screening with their physicians, even without a family history of the disease.

Based on a patient’s personal history and family history, I recommend my patients undergo genetic testing. Though we can’t change our genetics, we can detect cancer early. The earlier their breast cancer is detected, the better chance women have of surviving.

Fertility Challenges

Many of my patients who have won the battle or are in the midst of fighting breast cancer experience fertility challenges from chemotherapy treatment. As a result of cancer medication and chemotherapy, most women experience hormonal and menstrual cycle irregularities, as well as early menopause, and temporary or permanent infertility. The duration of the transient infertility cannot be predicted.

Consult a Physician Today

If you’re considering having a family, speak with your physician about your fertility options or schedule a well-woman exam at St. Luke’s Medical Group Caritas Women’s Care in Sugar Land.