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Dr. David Krajcovic, St. Luke's Hospital

Breast cancer and smoking

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 22.8 percent of Missouri women and 17.5 percent of Illinois women are smokers, which is higher than the national average of 16.2 percent. And while about 60 percent of those women have attempted to quit at one time or another, they have yet to kick the habit.

Now, a National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) Breast Cancer Prevention Trial sheds light on the dangers for those women who smoke, particularly those who are already at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

According to the report, which took into account several factors including long-term smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, family history of cancer, age and other considerations, those women who smoked for more than 15 years were at a 34 percent higher risk of developing invasive breast cancer. Women smoking for more than 35 years had a 60 percent higher chance of developing invasive breast cancer. However, the risk of getting breast cancer was zero for women smoking for less than 15 years.

For any woman, it is important to follow the guidelines for mammograms established by the American Cancer Society and supported by the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging. Research shows that cancer is the most treatable when it's detected early.

Mammography Guidelines:
  • Age 40 and over:
    • Annual screening mammogram
    • Annual clinical breast exam by a doctor or nurse (this exam should be done near the time of the mammogram)
    • Monthly breast self-examination
  • Age 20 to 39:
    • Clinical breast exam by a doctor or nurse every three years
    • Monthly breast self-examination
Mammograms should be a part of every woman's preventive health routine. Along with exercise, good nutrition and an annual physical, monthly breast exams and annual mammograms are important for maintaining good health. Screening mammograms can detect extremely small breast cancers that are too small to discover through breast self-examination or even through clinical breast examination.

For more information on the risks of smoking or to find resources on how to quit, visit smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Dr. David Krajcovic is chief of surgery at St. Luke's Hospital. To learn more about mammograms and breast cancer, call 314-205-6055 or visit our Women's Services page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 14, 2011.

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