Cutting Your Breast Cancer Risk Means Doing This at the Doctor's

MRI From pesticides to beauty products, household chemicals to the plastics used to make water bottles, women are constantly told we need to avoid this or all of that if we want to avoid getting breast cancer. There's a lot of mixed research out there, and yeah, some of it is pretty controversial. (Full disclosure: I even got into a snippy confrontation with a woman who works for a cosmetics company the other day, because she was trying to convince me that I should feel free to use products with parabens. Ugh.)

Ultimately, it's very much a personal decision what we choose to avoid -- if anything. But new research shows there are two biggies women looking to lower breast cancer risk might want to steer clear of: postmenopausal hormone therapy and unnecessary medical imaging (like CT scans and MRIs).


Back in December, a report done by the Institute of Medicine and commissioned by Susan G. Komen for the Cure couldn’t find enough data to confirm or rule out that exposure to most environmental factors caused breast cancer. (Although I'd still personally be careful about certain ones, like estrogen-mimicking parabens and phthlates in our cosmetics and home goods!) But they did note that avoiding unnecessary medical imaging (and postmenopausal hormone therapy) might really make a difference in breast cancer risk. An article in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine agrees and explored what women can do specifically when it comes to imaging to minimize their risk.

Obviously, we can't avoid CT scans and other forms of medical imaging 100 percent of the time. Some are absolutely necessary to our health and well-being. Others could be life-saving. But we should be thinking in more skeptical terms when it comes to the scans. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, M.D., a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, epidemiology, and biostatistics at UCSF, who wrote the article, said that women need to "engage their doctors in the decision-making process and insist on the necessity and safety of all radiological scans they undergo. They should understand the risks and benefits." 

Dr. Smith-Bindman also recommends asking their doctors Qs like:

  • Is this scan absolutely necessary?
  • Is it necessary to do it now?
  • Are there other, alternative tests?
  • How can I be sure the test will be done in the safest way possible?
  • Will having the scan information change the management of my disease?
  • Can I wait until after seeing a specialist before getting the scan?

This is no different than any other treatment or diagnostic procedure our docs recommend. We need to be actively involved in our medical care, speaking up, asking questions, and being sure the benefits of a scan are worth the risk. Because now, there’s really no question that unnecessary medical imaging does present a significant risk.

How do you feel about medical imaging? Have you ever decided against a scan because the benefits didn’t outweigh the risks?


Image via liz west/Flickr

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