Breast Cancer Risk Factors - Ask The Pharmacist

Oct 1, 2014
In conjunction with breast cancer awareness month, specialist pharmacists provide information about risk factors and treatment tips.
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  • Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, aside from skin cancers. About one in eight women in the U.S. develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Four years ago, my wife became one of them. Fortunately, she appears to be on track to survive the disease – like 90% of patients diagnosed with breast cancer.

A diagnosis of cancer can be difficult for patients and their caregivers to receive. As a specialist pharmacist in the Express Scripts Oncology Therapeutic Resource Center, I help patients understand the condition and manage the complex treatment regimens.

What most people may not realize is that men can get breast cancer as well, although it is 100 times more common among women.

Breast cancer usually originates in the linings of either the tubes (ducts) that carry milk or the glands (lobules) that manufacture milk.

Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Family medical history: About 5 – 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene defects (called mutations) inherited from a parent. Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer doubles a woman's risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about three-fold.
  • Personal history of breast cancer: A woman with cancer in one breast is three-to-four times more likely to develop a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from a recurrence of the first cancer.
  • Ethnicity: Overall, white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than are African-American women, but African-American women are more likely to die of this cancer.

The first symptom is often the most common one – a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft or rounded. They can even be painful.

Getting annual mammograms can help detect breast cancer early and save your life.

It is also important to have any new breast mass or lump or breast change checked by a health care professional because mammograms do not catch all breast cancer cases.

Integrating Nutrition Into Cancer Care

Treatment for breast cancer can be difficult and invasive, including chemotherapy and radiation. Both the treatment and the stress can have a detrimental impact on your health and appetite. Ensuring proper nutrition during treatment is very important, he adds. Paying careful attention to what you eat can also help ease the side-effects of treatment.

Here are a few nutrition tips to remember:

Eat enough calories: Treatment can often result in a poor appetite. One way to offset the lower food intake is to ingest high-calorie foods such as hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, cheese, ice cream, granola bars, liquid nutritional supplements, puddings, canned tuna or chicken, nuts and trail mix.

Tempt yourself: Eat your favorite foods anytime of the day. Eating small meals or snacks every couple of hours rather than three large meals is usually more successful to increase food consumption.

Foods that offset nausea and vomiting: Many treatments can cause nausea and vomiting. Eat six-to-eight meals a day, consisting of easy-to-digest foods such as soups, crackers, toast, dry cereals, broth, sport drinks, water, juice, gelatin and popsicles to help minimize these symptoms. Avoid spicy, greasy and overly sweet foods. Ginger and peppermint can also help reduce nausea.

Stay hydrated: Severe diarrhea during treatment can cause dehydration. Eating foods such as oatmeal, bananas and rice can help treat diarrhea. Fried, spicy, or very sweet foods may make it worse. And remember to drink plenty of water.

Stay adherent: As always make sure to take your medication as prescribed by your doctor and do not self-adjust.

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