Breast care 101 will help us understand the importance of breast care. As a breast health navigator, I have mentored numerous women during their breast cancer journey. Unfortunately, when they came to know me, they had already been diagnosed with breast cancer.
It is important to understand our breasts so we can take better care of them. It pays to be proactive with our breast health.
We have an emotional attachment to our breasts. That is understandable because I don’t know about you but when I got my breast buds, I couldn’t wait to wear a bra. It was a sign of “growing up”. I took much pride to feed my babies from my breasts. I thought that was the coolest most amazing thing! These same breasts that I was so excited about as a teenager almost killed me 30 plus years later!
It saddens me to hear about new cases of breast cancer. A week does not go by without hearing about a friend or acquittance who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Since my breast cancer diagnosis in 2009, I have been on a mission to educate you regarding breast care. It has become a passion of mine to help you decrease your risk of ever hearing these dreadful words. “You have breast cancer”.
Enough of that so let just dive right into some ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer. You need to know your breasts so if anything changes, you need to have them checked by a health care provider. The best way to become familiar with your breasts is by performing self-breast exams. I will not go into depth here because there are many credible websites that instruct on how to perform these exams. I recommend starting these exams in your teens. Our breasts are naturally lumpy. If you have dense breast, they feel lumpier. Breast are lumpy around the time of your menstrual cycle. It is best to check your breasts monthly, preferably one week after your menstrual cycle. If you don’t have a cycle, check your breast on the same day each month. Pick a day that is easy to remember, like the 1st day of each month.
Breast cancer can present itself many other ways besides a breast lump. Here are some signs to be aware of:
- A hard lump deep in the breast
- A growing vein
- A dimple
- A thick area
- Nipple with itching, pain, rash, peeling, flaking, crusting, scaly or bleeding skin
- Redness or heat
- New fluid from nipple especially clear or bloody/brown
- An inverted nipple
- Changes in the size and shape of one breast
- Skin that looks like an orange peel
- Swelling or lumps located in armpit, around your neck or collarbone.I have never forgotten what the breast lump felt like in a fake breast model in nursing school. That is exactly what my breast lump felt like when I found my own lump 5 months after a clean mammogram. That was so weird to have that memory 28 years later! I remember it so vividly in my mind. It felt like my knuckle. A hard immovable knot. Because I practiced breast awareness, I knew immediately that something was wrong. I didn’t waste any time getting an appointment with my gynecologist. We would never ignore the gas gauge on our cars, because we would run out of gas. So, pay attention to your breasts and seek medical advice quickly. We know that early detection is the key to better outcomes.
If you smoke, please stop. There are smoke cessation classes in most cities that could help you stop smoking. Alcohol has also been linked to breast cancer by increasing the levels of estrogen and other hormone positive breast cancers. Hormone receptor positive breast cancers are very common. According to breastcancer.org, women who have 3 alcohol drinks per week has a 15% higher risk of breast cancer.
Exercise is so important in reducing your risk of breast cancer and other diseases as well. You are probably wondering which exercise is the best. Well, the best one is the one you will do. Exercise just means moving.Try to aim for 20-30 minutes a day. Make it fun and you will stick with it longer.
Most of us don’t recognize the correlation between our diets and our breast health. Most of eat the Standard American Diet which has the acronym SAD. It is so sad. It is important to reduce your intake of caffeine to include chocolate. Yes, I am so sorry but chocolate and refined sugars can increase your risk of breast cancer by causing inflammation in the body. I was addicted to refined sugar prior to my breast cancer diagnosis. Did you know that sugar lights up the same part of the brain as crack codeine? Now you know why it is so hard to kick that habit!
It is beneficial to adopt a plant-based diet to reduce your risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer can be caused by inflammation in the body. So, what is inflammation? I am so glad you asked. Inflammation is caused by eating too much processed foods. Our bodies start a reaction to rid itself of the processed and other unhealthy foods. Inflammation makes our body feel like it is on fire! This is our built-in alarm system to let us know something is wrong. Our bodies are always in a survival mode to keep us alive and prevent disease.
Not all changes in our breasts are cancer. There are many benign breast tumors and conditions. The best plan of care is to check out anything that is unusual. Taking this stance may save not just your breasts but also your life.
Oops, I almost forgot! Make sure you are getting your yearly mammograms when you become of age. It is recommended that you get a baseline mammogram around the age of 40-44. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may need one sooner. So the most important recommendation is to have that conversation with your physician.
The information is presented for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or prescribe for any medical or psychological condition, nor to prevent, treat, mitigate or cure such conditions. The information contained herein is not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a doctor or qualified healthcare professional. Therefore, this information is not intended as medical advice, but rather a sharing of knowledge and information based on research and experience. Carolyn ‘conquered’ cancer encourages you to make your own health care decisions based on your judgment and research in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.