Breast cancer. Those two little words evoke fear in the hearts of nearly all women. Breast cancer can strike the young, the old, and any age in between.
Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to talk about this disease and help not only raise awareness but encourage you to become the healthiest you possible. While there are no guarantees in life, healthy living practices, knowing your body, and routine screenings can go a long way to lowering your risks for breast cancer or to catching it early. Implementing as much of this advice as possible could lead to a longer, healthier life.
Know your body
Regularly examine your body in the mirror so that you know how your breasts look and to become aware of possible changes. Look for redness. Feel for tenderness.
Check for lumps
The University of California San Francisco advises women to check their breasts every month for lumps or any other changes. The Cleveland Clinic says that the best time to check for lumps is after your period. Women who no longer have their periods can choose any time of the month. Developing a routine will keep you from forgetting and will make you aware of any changes. The clinic’s website offers helpful tips about how to position your arms while you check for lumps.
If you feel anything abnormal, contact your doctor. It may be nothing, but if it is cancer, the earlier it’s detected, the better.
Maintain a healthy weight
The Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine—one of the nation’s leading cancer treatment and research centers—explains that being overweight can increase the risk of different kinds of cancer, including breast cancer. This is especially true after menopause because an increase in fat tissue after this time in a woman’s life can raise estrogen levels, which increases the risk of breast cancer. Further, overweight women tend to have higher blood insulin levels, which have been linked to breast cancer. To help maintain a healthy weight, doctors advise women to get at least thirty minutes of physical exercise a day. This will not only help keep your weight at a healthy level, but it will improve your overall health and increase your energy.
According to the American Cancer Society, “Some (but not all) studies have suggested that a diet that is high in vegetables, fruit, and calcium-rich dairy products, but low in red and processed meats might help lower the risk of breast cancer.”
Nutritionists advise women to eat at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day, to limit fat, to eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, and to avoid trans fats and processed meats as much as possible. While no food has been proven to prevent cancer, keeping your body healthy by feeding it nutritious foods high in antioxidants has numerous health benefits, including helping you maintain a healthy weight.
Limit or stop drinking alcohol
We know this may be something you don’t want to hear, but the American Cancer Society reports an increased risk of breast cancer for those who drink alcohol. The risks are significant for those who drink two or more alcoholic beverages a day. It reports: “Women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a small (about 7% to 10%) increase in risk compared with those who don’t drink, while women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk.” Keep this in mind and try to save the alcohol for special occasions.
Smoking increases the risk of over a dozen different kinds of cancers, including breast cancer. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, good for you!
Schedule a mammogram
We know it can be scary, but early detection is vital. Starting at the age of 40, schedule your yearly mammogram. If you have a higher risk because of family history, talk to your doctor about starting them earlier.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation has a fantastic resource for women. Entitled Most Asked Questions: Breast Cancer Signs & Symptoms, this booklet answers common questions and helps women know the early warning signs of breast cancer.
Talk about it
Breast cancer is not a taboo subject. Talk about it with your friends, your family, and on social media. Sometimes we think that others know or are aware of the same information we know, but this isn’t always the case. Maybe our words of encouragement or inspiration will give someone else the courage to schedule that mammogram or to make those lifestyle changes. Sharing information and spreading the word about things we can all do may just save a life.
So let us take Breast Cancer Awareness Month seriously and all do our part to protect ourselves and others.