Breast Health and Cancer Prevention
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time for those who have personally been affected as well as those with loved ones affected by breast cancer to come together and share memories and stories of survival. Awareness of others’ experiences is how we empathize with those impacted and how we encourage others who may be struggling. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is also a time to promote healthy practices, breast health, and self-inspection methods. As we have learned over time, this information has the potential to save lives.
Breast Cancer is the most common cancer found in women. About one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. However, breast cancer death rates have been decreasing, especially among women under 50. This decrease can be attributed to increased awareness, treatment advances, and earlier detection through screening. By continuing to raise awareness, we can work together to reduce the number of cancer victims every year.
The first thing you can do to reduce your own risk is the same measure you would take to prevent most other health problems; eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, engage in regular physical activity, limit your drinks, and don’t smoke, or quit if you do.
Although you may not like to think about it, you should know your risk factors. You’re more likely to get breast cancer if:
- You are 40 years old
- Your mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer
- Your mother, sister, or daughter tested positive for gene mutations associated with higher risk
- You have been previously diagnosed with cancer
Like other cancers, many symptoms of breast cancer can go undetected without the help of a professional screening, which you should receive annually at your well woman exam. Some symptoms, however, are more noticeable. Early detection leads to prompt treatment and could give you a greater chance of recovery. Pay attention to changes in your breasts. If you experience one of the following symptoms, contact your gynecologist or primary care provider for a screening:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast
- A nipple turned inward to the breast
- Discharge (fluid) from the nipple
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola
According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump.
At least once a month, women of all ages should perform a breast self-exam. The routine frequency keeps you updated and familiar with your breasts and makes it easier to notice slight changes you would otherwise miss.
There are three ways to perform a self-examination:
In the Shower
With an open hand, use your fingers to move around your breast in a spiral pattern gradually moving from the outside to the center. Check the armpit as well. You’re looking for any thickening, lumps, or knots.
In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for wrinkled skin, changes in shape, swelling, and changes to the nipples. Place your hands on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles and look for the above signs once more.
Place a pillow under your shoulder and your arm behind your head. Use your left hand to feel around your right breast gently in small circles until you’ve covered the entire breast and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps with your right hand for your left breast.
Finally, and most importantly, contact your gynecologist or primary health provider if you have any questions about the health of your breasts.