October is breast cancer awareness month, and it is also the month where all stores are selling pink merchandise that will help fund breast cancer research. However, it is important that we do not get so distracted by supporting breast cancer research that we forget to take the appropriate measures to prevent breast cancer.
Luckily, breast cancer is completely treatable if detected early. Recent advances in medical sciences and health facilities has led to an increase in the number of international JCI- certified hospitals for breast cancer treatment which have both expertise and the infrastructure required to treat the disease. Below are some tips on what you can do to ensure optimum health and be aware of your body to help prevent and treat breast cancer.
1. Breast Self-Examination (BSE)
It is important that you are aware of what your healthy breasts look and feel like, no matter what your age is. From about age 20, you should give yourself a self-examination once a month, and immediately report any changes to your gynecologist. The best time to give yourself an exam is when your breasts are not tender or swollen, as it will be less uncomfortable and easier to get to know what your healthy breasts feel like. Take a look at the American Cancer Society’s guide on how to do a BSE.
Regular exercise has been found not only to help prevent breast cancer, but it has also been shown to be effective in improving overall health and quality of life of breast cancer patients and survivors. A recent study was conducted that showed that women who had very active lifestyles (more than 42 hours a week of activity overall) had a 25% lower risk of breast cancer than those who only exercised between 0 and 7 hours a week. Keep in mind that these studies included all type of physical activity, not only the time dedicated to jogging or going to the gym. The most important thing to remember is that any level of increase of physical exercise compared to your current level is going to help you reduce your risk of breast cancer. One study showed that as little as 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours a week of brisk walking can reduce your risk by up to 18%!
3. Avoid Over-drinking and Smoking
While some studies on this seem conflicting, the overall conclusion is that with an increase in daily alcohol consumption, your risk for breast cancer also increases. One study showed that a possible mechanism for this is the increase in alcohol consumption, particularly in post-menopausal women, also increases the woman’s levels of certain hormones, a misbalance of which can increase breast cancer risk. Any level of smoking, on the other hand, whether passive or active, has shown to cause a very significant increase in breast cancer risk. Smoking 1-9 cigarettes per day more than doubles your breast cancer risk, while smoking more than 20 cigarettes per day can increase your risk of breast cancer by almost five times. If you want to quit, you can take baby steps doing it by using those vaping devices. It has been observed that it’s a healthier option and is a very good way to kick out the habit of smoking.
4. Talk to Your Doctor About Birth Control
Studies have shown that taking birth control can double your risk of breast cancer if you are not currently taking birth control. However, oral contraceptives can also have a protective effect in protecting you from certain ovarian and cervical cancers. Remember that there are many other factors involved in breast cancer risk that you should discuss with your doctor before you start or stop any oral contraceptive regimen.
5. Maintaining a Healthy Weight
The Women’s Health Initiative carried out an important study that showed that obesity in post-menopausal women has an elevated risk of breast cancer. A change in body-mass index from age 18 was also associated with post-menopausal breast cancer. Even if you are a long way away from reaching menopause, remember that habits can start and stick at any age, whether healthy or unhealthy, which means that having a healthy lifestyle today will result in a healthier lifestyle tomorrow.
Studies show that breastfeeding has shown to have a protective effect against breast cancer particularly if you breast feed for at least 16 months. These results were shown again in a study done with women in Germany, which found the protective effect was greater in women who were over 25 when they first breastfed and in women who experienced full-term pregnancies. With the rise of formula use for newborns, these studies show that breastfeeding isn’t only beneficial for the babies, but also for the mommies.
7. Good Nutrition
Ensuring you are eating healthy is related to three of the factors mentioned above (exercise, avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight) which will help reduce your risk of breast cancer. However, good nutrition as an independent behavior will help fight breast cancer as well. Certain foods containing omega-3 fatty acids may have a protective effect against breast cancer, as well as those containing high amounts of anti-oxidants. Making sure that you are eating the right amount of energy food for your age, height, weight and having high activity level are important keys in ensuring a good nutritional balance for your breast cancer prevention. Breast cancer is very complicated, and there is no sure way to prevent it. In addition, there are also other factors, like family history and genes, which can have a strong influence on breast health. However, there are many lifestyle factors, like those mentioned above, which can help keep your body – and your girls—healthy. Make sure to get your yearly check-up with your OB/GYN and talk to him or her before taking up any new life-altering regimen.