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October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Contributed by Karen McKinsey, RN, Kathleen Ober, Ph.D., FNP-BC, Veronica Reis, Ph.D., Laureen Pada, MSN, MBA and Joyce Johnson, MSN, FNP-BC

Women and men can play an active role in lowering their risk by making a few health habit changes:

Weight Management:


  • Avoid alcohol.

  • Two alcohol drinks a day can increase your risk for breast cancer by 21%.

Hormone Therapy:

  • Hormone therapy with estrogen and progestin has been linked to a slight increase in breast cancer.

  • Use the lowest dose of hormone therapy for the shortest amount of time possible as suggested by the American College of Gynecology (ACOG).


  • Eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, high-fiber foods, and foods low in fat.

  • The MOVE! program and My HealtheVet 's Healthy Eating Center offer tips for healthy eating.

  • Use the My HealtheVet food journal to help you keep track of what you eat.


  • Exercise for 45 to 60 minutes on five or more days per week.

  • Postmenopausal women can lower their risk, according to one study, with any level of physical activity done on a regular basis.

  • My HealtheVet Physical Activity Center helps you chose activities that are best for you and your life style. Use the My HealtheVet Track Health to track your progress.

Get Screened:

  • If you are 40 or older, get a mammogram every 1-2 years.

Are you at high risk for breast cancer?

If you are at high risk for breast cancer (for example: a family history of premenopausal breast cancer, personal history of breast cancer, genetic risk factors and abnormal changes in breast tissue cells) here are three possible ways to lower your risk of cancer:

  • Early mammography: Ask your healthcare provider about a mammogram schedule that is right for you.

  • Genetic testing for BRCA gene mutation: There are both advantages and disadvantages to testing. Discussing these options with your healthcare provider, family, and friends will help you make the best decision for your personal health.

  • Medication therapy: Some medications have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in certain individuals. Talk with your healthcare provider about your options and what is best for you.

Does Breast Pain Signal Breast Cancer?

  • Breast pain is more often due to hormones, breast cysts or infection and fibrocystic changes.

  • Breast pain is common in teenagers and women who are near menopause.

  • 10% of women with breast cancer have breast pain as a symptom.

Do you have breast pain?

  • Do not panic.

  • Chances are very low that you have breast cancer.

  • Be smart and get it checked out.

  • No one needs to suffer with breast pain.

What to do?

  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you find any breast changes.

  • If you have breast pain, tell your provider when the pain began, location, and if the pain is constant or comes and goes.

  • Your healthcare provider may order a mammogram or ultrasound as part of your exam.

Read More

Breast Cancer tutorial (MedlinePlus)

For the latest on Breast Cancer Research, visit the National Institutes of Health.

Updated September 30, 2009