Every woman is concerned about breast health and their own personal chances of experiencing this alarmingly common cancer. Statistics only add to the concerns, as current predictions put 1 in 8 women at risk. Everyone agrees that breast cancer prevention is key to lowering these statistics.
There are steps every woman can take to strive for a lifetime of favorable breast health. And there are also steps to take to ensure any problems will be noticed and addressed before they can become life-threatening. Although the statistics may be scary, the survival rates continue to increase as more women take proactive measures.
So what can you do to take care of your breast health at every stage of life? How can you know your chances of experiencing breast cancer, and what changes in lifestyle can help increase breast cancer prevention? Here are 10 points to ponder for your own health and awareness.
1. Everyone is different.
There is no absolute standard by which all women should judge their breasts. Every shape, size, and color is beautiful and unique. Whatever you may have been told, It is likely that the breasts you were born with are perfectly healthy and normal for you, so enjoy yourself for who you are.
That being said, your lifestyle may or may not affect your breast health. There are all kinds of claims about wearing bras, sleeping positions, and exercise. None of these things have been definitively proven to increase or decrease breast size, and will not be able to defy the law of gravity as you age. Taking care of your overall health is one step toward keeping your breasts healthy, but you can expect your breasts to continue to change with children and age, just like the rest of you.
2. Wearing a bra–yes or no?
First of all, in spite of what you may have heard or read, there is absolutely no scientific proof of a link between wearing a bra and breast cancer. However, an improperly fitted bra may cause back and shoulder discomfort and possibly clog milk ducts in breastfeeding moms, so make sure you have properly measured yourself for comfortable support.
More active women find extra support to be helpful when exercising. And those more “well endowed” often like to keep those girls under control. Everyone has their own style, and if you’re more comfortable wearing a bra, don’t feel guilty about it. Your breast health does not depend upon it, so don’t let the media dictate your preferences.
Breastfeeding has gone in and out of vogue over the last century, but more recent studies seem to indicate that breastfeeding can lower your risk of cancer by 20%, more or less. There are also indications that breastfeeding your daughter can help lower her chances of developing breast cancer.
Most people know that breastfeeding provides newborns with antibodies that kickstart a healthy immune system as well as assist in forming a strong mother/child bond. But the benefits to mothers have also been verified by studies in several different countries. These studies show a lowered risk of one of the most aggressive types of cancer, hormone-receptor-negative cancer. So there are more reasons than ever for expectant mothers to consider this natural option.
4. Birth control medication.
For healthy women who are not positive for genetic factors leading to breast cancer, hormonal birth control methods such as pills, injections, or a ring may increase the chance of cancer…but only by a very small amount. And the longer you go cancer-free after you stop taking the contraceptives, the less chance there is that it will affect you.
However, if you do show a genetic factor and you’re over 40 years old, you may consider changing to a different type of birth control method. There are a number of options that you can discuss with your doctor in order to keep the odds as low as possible.
The most common genetic factor increasing a woman’s risk of breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. This gene’s purpose is normally to repair damaged DNA, but they sometimes mutate and cause abnormal cell growth. A woman with one of these mutated genes has a 70% chance of developing cancer by age 80.
Women with this mutation also have an increased risk of developing cancer younger and in both breasts. Some racial and ethnic groups are more susceptible than others, so it is worth your while to become informed about this dangerous inherited factor over which you have no control. There are also other genetic factors to consider, especially if you have a family history of breast cancer. Your doctor can advise you about any steps you may take for your own breast cancer prevention plan.
6. Self Examination.
Whatever your age, experts recommend you perform a self-examination of your breasts at least once a month. Up to 40% of cancer diagnoses have been made as a result of women identifying a lump or other abnormality through self-examination. Early detection greatly increases a successful treatment outcome.
Self-examination is not difficult. It can be performed in the shower or while lying in bed. There are a number of websites that give detailed instructions about what to do and expect. Most women have some lumpy tissue in their breasts, and most lumps are not cancer.
7. Pay attention to warning signs.
It’s important not to ignore possible indicators that there may be a problem. If you observe any of the following changes, consult your doctor right away.
An area of hardening. If an area of your breast feels hard near the surface of the skin, have it checked out. Don’t just wait for it to go away.
Indentation. If an area of skin other than the nipple becomes indented or sunken in, call your doctor.
Erosion.If your breast develops an area of sore, eroding skin, it’s time to have it checked out.
Redness or heat.If any of the above are accompanied by redness or heat, or if it seems you suddenly have a sensitive, abrasion-like area, call your doctor.
Fluid other than milk. If you experience an unusual discharge, make an appointment for an exam.
Dimpling or ‘orange peel’ skin. You know it can’t be normal. Call the doctor.
Nipple retraction. Some women have normally retracted nipples, and that’s not a problem. But if this is not the norm for you, you should have unusual retracting checked out.
Unusual change in size or shape. If you begin to see a bump or notice a new asymmetry in your breast, get a professional exam.
Prominent veins. If you notice a blood vessel becoming more visible close to the surface of your breast, it may be worth getting it checked out.
Don’t put off having any unusual changes checked out by your doctor. The issue may not be cancer, but there may be other factors to be addressed. Procrastinating will not improve your chances for ongoing breast health or complete recovery from other issues.
In recent years there has been a bit of controversy over when a woman should begin to have routine mammograms. The general consensus is that women who are of average risk should begin having yearly mammograms between 45-50 years of age. Those in higher risk groups may begin at a younger age, as their doctor recommends.
Some women choose to begin yearly screening at 40 years old. There is no reason not to if you feel it will give you peace of mind. Self-examination will often reveal potential issues if you prefer to wait until your older.
9. Survival rates are improving.
Ongoing improvements in breast cancer prevention are helping keep survival rates on the rise. Ninety percent of women now survive a cancer diagnosis. Early detection and treatment are key, so the importance of contacting your medical professional with any potential issues cannot be overstressed.