October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is still the most common cancer among women. Completing an annual breast cancer screening can help find breast abnormalities early, and enhanced technology makes even earlier detection possible.

Patients who visit Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Fairmont and New Prague have access to enhanced technology for breast cancer screenings. Breast tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, enables physicians to see cancers earlier, especially in women with denser breast tissue. The technology also means it’s less likely women will be called back for a second screening.

              “About 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and survivability improves when cancers are found early,” says, Michael Wolf, M.D., a Mayo Clinic Health System radiologist.

When used for breast cancer screening, a tomosynthesis breast scanner not only creates 3D mammogram images, but also 2D mammogram images. Studies show that combining 3D mammograms with standard 2D mammograms reduces the need for additional imaging and slightly increases the number of cancers detected during screening.

Breast cancer prevention is also important. Some risk factors, such as family history, can’t be changed. However, these lifestyle changes can lower your risk:

  • Limit alcohol.
    The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. Based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk, you should limit yourself to less than one drink per day, as even small amounts of alcohol increase risk.
  • Don’t smoke.
    Accumulating evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women. In addition, not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
  • Manage your weight.
    Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
  • Be physically active.
    Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
  • Breastfeed.
    Breastfeeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breastfeed, the greater the protective effect.
  • Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy.
    Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer. If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your health care provider about other options. You might be able to manage your symptoms with nonhormonal therapies and medications. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works for you and continue to have your provider monitor the length of time you take hormones.
  • Be vigilant about breast cancer detection.
    If you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a new lump or skin changes, consult your provider. Also, ask when to begin mammograms and other screenings based on your personal history.

Making an appointment for breast cancer screening is easy. Mayo Clinic Health System patients have the opportunity to self-schedule a screening mammogram appointment through Patient Online Services, Mayo Clinic Health System’s patient portal. Patients who have a Patient Online Services account will receive an email from their care team letting them know they can schedule an appointment. Once logged in to their account, patients can select a date, time and location that will work best for their schedule.

Visit the Mayo Clinic Health System website for more information.