Healthy Living: Breast cancer risk linked to weight, genes


Each year, 12,000 Pennsylvania women are diagnosed with breast cancer and 2,200 will die from the disease, according to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition.

Mary Lou Law was one of those women diagnosed after she found a lump in her breast after showering. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer three years ago.

She received treatment and chemotherapy and now Mary Lou is now sharing her story in hopes to inspire others to be mindful of their health.

“Life got in the way of annual mammograms,” she said. “You have to be on top of things. You have to pay attention.”

The recommendation for women is to begin regular screenings at age 40.

Dr. Angela Soto-Hamlin says in her opinion, this is the most important thing, but she also says women and men of any age should check their breasts regularly during showers so you know if there is any change.

“As soon as you detect anything, or you’re questioning it, get checked out,” Law said.

In addition to self-exams, Soto-Hamlin says to be mindful of your age and family history. Those are linked to your breast cancer risk.

According to the CDC, the risk for breast cancer increases with age with most breast cancers diagnosed after age 50.

Family history also plays a role and so does your weight.

“If you can stay the same weight as you were when you were 18, that can reduce the number of post-menopausal breast cancers by as many as 20%,” Soto-Hamlin said.

Law didn’t have a family history of breast cancer but was at a higher risk.

“Two genes responsible for the highest risk of developing breast cancer, inherited genes, the BRCA 1 and 2,” Soto-Hamlin said. “There are tests that can look for those two genes.”

Law tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene. She had her five children get tested and three of the five also tested positive for it.

“Some advocate for the whole population to get tested,” Soto-Hamlin said.

Consult your physician if you think you are a good candidate for genetic testing.

Soto-Hamlin says lifestyle can also impact your risk of developing breast cancer. She suggests regular exercise and stress reduction in addition to eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet.

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