Mariko Rajamand: Take charge of your breast health

Women are encouraged to perform monthly breast self-exams; if you notice any changes, report them to your care provider right away. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Women are encouraged to perform monthly breast self-exams; if you notice any changes, report them to your care provider right away. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

As we age, our health maintenance list of to-dos and screening seems to get longer and longer, and for women, the list may start to feel overwhelming.
To help simplify what women can do to take charge of their breast health, we’ve compiled helpful tips on the different screening options, types of breast tissue and more.
When and how often to get a mammogram
Beginning at age 40, women should get a mammogram (x-ray image of the breast) every 1 to 2 years to screen for breast cancer, and screenings should continue until at least age 75.
If you have a family history of cancer, genetic tendencies or other risk factors, it may be recommended that you begin mammogram screenings earlier or more frequently. No matter what, make sure to talk with your care provider about a plan that makes the most sense for you.
What you need to know about dense breast tissue
You may have heard the term “dense breast tissue” in health blogs and conversations, but what is it exactly and what does it mean if you have it?
Dense breast tissue is quite common. Nearly half of women 40 and older who get mammograms have dense breast tissue. Breast tissue is “dense” when a mammogram shows more fibrous tissue and less fat; fibrous and fatty tissues give breasts their shape.
But what does having dense breast tissue mean for your health?
Since dense breast tissue and cancerous lumps look similar on a mammogram, it can be difficult for a radiologist to read the mammogram and identify cancers. Women with dense breast tissue have a moderately higher risk of breast cancer than women without it. However, having dense breast tissue does not increase the risk of dying from breast cancer.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not recommend extra screenings for women with dense breast tissue who do not have other risk factors. Current research does not show that additional screening methods reduce breast cancer deaths in women with low risk.
Be sure to speak with your doctor about your medical history, your family history and any other risk factors so they can recommend the appropriate screenings for you.
Breast health as you age
Breast tissue changes as women age. Pregnancy and breastfeeding alter the appearance of breasts, but women will still see differences even without those life experiences. Estrogen also naturally declines over time, decreasing the elasticity of breast tissue.
The dense tissue is replaced by fatty tissue for women with dense breast tissue as the aging process continues.
Protecting yourself against breast cancer
Breast cancer is often found by the woman herself. Because of that, women are encouraged to perform monthly breast self-exams, so they are familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel. If you notice any changes, be sure to report them to your care provider right away.
You can protect yourself from breast cancer by following your provider’s recommendations for breast cancer screenings. Regular breast screening can help find cancer at an early stage, which helps make treatment more successful. Screening can also find problems that aren’t cancer.
In addition to screenings, women can take charge of their breast health and reduce their risk for breast cancer by:
• Balancing physical activity with a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight,
• Limiting alcohol consumption; and
• Quitting smoking and stopping use of any tobacco products.


Fast Facts
Here are five facts and statistics about breast cancer recently published by the nonprofit Breastcancer.org:
• About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 13%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
• In 2021, an estimated 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 49,290 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
• About 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2021. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 833.
• As of January 2021, there are more than 3.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.
• About 43,600 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2021 from breast cancer.

— Source: bit.ly/3jBWV85


Dr. Mariko Rajamand is an OB/GYN doctor at Renown Medical Group – Women's Health. Visit renown.org to learn more.

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