Breast cancer screening is an important part of every woman’s lifetime
commitment to her health. But as guidelines and medical data constantly
changes, it can be confusing to know what steps to take to protect yourself.
We asked two of Cortland Regional’s expert providers – hematologist/oncologist
Dr. Matthew Karpenko, and Mary Borra, certified nurse midwife –
for their advice about breast cancer risk factors and how to stay cancer free.
Know Your Family History
Knowing your family’s health history is essential to understanding
your overall risk of developing breast cancer. “If there is a clear
pattern of breast cancer in your family, your chances of developing breast
cancer are far greater,” says Dr. Karpenko. Genetic factors, shared
lifestyle factors, and the presence of other types of cancer in your medical
background can also increase your risk of developing the disease.
Establishing a relationship with a primary care physician is also key
to early detection and prevention. “It’s so important for
women to talk about their family history with their primary care providers
and to have annual physical exams. Women should also ask questions and
discuss their fears and options if other women in their family have been
diagnosed with cancer,” says Mary Borra.
Get Your Annual Screenings
Age is a known risk factor for breast cancer, and for women aged 40 and
older, experts agree that mammograms are the most reliable tools for detection.
While national guidelines advise getting your first mammogram between
the ages 40 and 45, Mary Borra says, “Women should talk with their
providers to determine a regular screening schedule they are comfortable
with. Women under 40 are only encouraged to get mammograms if there is
a family history of breast cancer.”
A lack of health insurance or a primary care provider shouldn’t deter
women from getting regular screenings, either. The Cortland County Health
Department’s Cancer Services Program offers free breast, cervical,
and colorectal screenings to men and women without health insurance. For
more information about the program, call 607-758-5523.
Limit Your Estrogen Exposure
“Prolonged exposure to estrogen is a main contributor to breast
cancer,” says Dr. Karpenko. The female hormone, estrogen, made primarily
in the ovaries, is critical for sexual development including the stimulation
of normal breast cells. From the time of a woman’s first monthly
period until menopause, regular exposure to estrogen may increase her
risk for breast cancer. Contraception and hormone replacement therapy
can add to risk factors but Karpenko stresses that the risks go hand-in-hand
with benefits, “Hormone therapy can be a successful tool when treating
polycystic ovarian syndrome or uterine fibroids. It’s important
to talk with your provider about the risks to decide what is best for
Maintain a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle
Diet and lifestyle are just as important for supporting optimal health.
While many of Borra’s patients are younger than the recommended
mammogram screening age, she advises them that prevention begins with
making healthy choices in lifestyle and diet. “By being physically
active, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and eating fruits
and vegetables, women can lower their risk for breast as well as other
types of cancer.”
Resources Close to Home
Cortland Regional offers a full spectrum of comprehensive care and expert
resources – from primary care and women’s health to hematology
and oncology to post-surgical support.
- Family Medicine: 607-753-9977
- Hematology and Oncology: 607-756-3130
- Imaging and Radiology: 607-756-3794
- Internal Medicine: 607-753-1025
- Cancer Nurse Navigator: 607-428-5770
- The Confident Woman: 607-756-3880