Breast cancer survivor ‘saved her own life’ by being her own advocate, her doctor says

Written by on October 11, 2021

Breast cancer survivor ‘saved her own life’ by being her own advocate, her doctor says

By Brittany Sweeney

October 11, 2021

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez from Pexels

One in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime according to the American Cancer Society. 

Listen to the story.

Now, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a local breast cancer survivor and a doctor talk about the importance of being your own health advocate.

In early 2020, in her mid-30’s, Krista Baum was following her normal shower routine when she noticed something. 

It wasn’t normal. 

The Bethlehem mom of two quickly took action, she called her doctor and told her that she found a lump.  

“I use the word lump because I didn’t know how to describe it, but also I wanted to explain to her that to me, it was serious because I knew it was something different,” Baum said. 

She described it as a texture difference under the skin. 

The most common risk factors for breast cancer are age, being over 50, family history of breast cancer, health history, such as obesity, and environmental factors.  Baum checked none of those boxes.  

Her doctor, Dr. Lori Alfonse, deputy physician in chief at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Topper Cancer Institute said Baum saved her own life by paying attention to her body. 

“The two biggest risks that any woman has for getting breast cancer are having breasts and living long enough to get it,” Alfonse said.  

All women should be doing a self exam once a month and getting mammograms by age 40 or sooner if there are risk factors, she added.

According to the CDC these are the “Risk Factors You Cannot Change”:

  • Getting older – The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
  • Genetic mutations – Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Reproductive history – Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Having dense breasts – Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases – Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer – A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk. 
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy – Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (for instance, treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
  • Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the U.S. between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk – Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.

According to the CDC these are the “Risk Factors You Can Change”:

  • Not being physically active – Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause – Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
  • Taking hormones – Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years – Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
  • Reproductive history – Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
  • Drinking alcohol – Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
  • Other factors – Research suggests smoking, being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer, and changes in other hormones due to night shift working also may increase breast cancer risk.

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