Breast Cancer Awareness

Think of all the wonderful women that have impacted your life—mother, grandmother, sister, wife, aunt, niece, and friend. You would do everything in your power to prevent anything you possibly could from happening to them, wouldn’t you? As sad as it is, almost all of us know someone who has or at least know of someone affected by breast cancer. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and we want to raise awareness of this disease as well as various preventative measures that can be taken.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women (except for skin cancers) and about 1 in 8 women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Now, although the introduction was more focused on women, it is important to be informed that men can also get breast cancer. For men, the chance of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000, significantly less than women. Men also have breast tissue, but because their tissue is much less developed and because they have lower levels of female hormones that affect breast growth, it is much less prevalent.

For any disease, there are risk factors that can put you at increased risk of getting that disease. The more risk factors you possess, the greater your risk. Although there is no for sure way to prevent breast cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your chances and detect breast cancer early.

Detection: Early detection increases the chances that breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage and treated in a successful manner.

  1. Perform self-breast examinations. Even though this may be uncomfortable for some women, even if you go to a doctor for your yearly check up, you know your body the best. If you are unsure how to perform a self-exam, the American Cancer Society’s website explains an effective method to do so. It does not have to be a systematic approach, perhaps just feeling your breasts while you’re showering or getting dressed in the morning will be sufficient. Self-exams are extremely important and could be the sole cause of early detection. This should be started when women are in their 20s and continued throughout a women’s life.
  2. Get a Clinic Breast Examination. Women in their 20s-30s should get a clinical breast examination done by a health professional every three years. This helps women to notice changes in their breasts and also provide early awareness of breast cancer, as your chances of developing breast cancer increase as you age. Once a woman turns 40, clinical breast exams should be done by a health professional once per year.
  3. Get a mammogram. Although it is not 100% effective at detecting all types of cancer, mammograms are very excellent tools to detect abnormal areas in the breasts. Then a biopsy must be done to see if the tissue is cancerous. Women in their 40s should most definitely be getting a mammogram done once per year throughout their lives. Marquette University’s insurance for faculty and staff covers preventative measures at 100%–this would include a mammogram. Mammograms are definitely not the most enjoyable procedure to go through, but it is so important that you have your yearly mammogram and give these appointments the importance they deserve.

Preventative Measures: Some risk factors, such as age, gender, race, and family history cannot be controlled. However, you do have control over some possible risk factors. It is crucial that you take control of these factors.

  1. Eat well. According to an article written by Dr. Jennifer Landa, the Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD, “any diet that is focused on maximizing your health and reducing disease risk will include fresh and whole foods, and be rich in a variety of vegetables.” Just as Dr. Landa said, eating well can reduce your risk of getting breast cancer. Try to reduce your intake of processed foods and stick to “real foods” such as meat, fruits, and vegetables. As a general rule of thumb, if you stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store and avoid buying a lot of items in the middle of the store, you will avoid consuming a lot of processed foods where the food loses nutrients and additional things are added to the food. Secondly, eating well will most likely in turn allow you to manage your weight. Being at a healthy weight can also decrease your chance of getting breast cancer.
  2. Exercise regularly. I was informed by Dr. Papanek that studies have shown exercising for 4 hours per week can reduce your chances of getting breast cancer by 50%; exercising for 6 hours/week can decrease your chances by 75%. Just let that statistic sink in. If you exercise for one hour 6 days per week, you have about a ¾ chance that you will not develop breast cancer. Exercise is medicine. It is such a useful tool that is right at your fingertips. You just have to use it!
  3. Limit total time spent sitting. Research has shown that the more sitting time you do, the greater your likelihood of developing cancer. An American Cancer Society study found that women who sat a total of 6 hours per day had a greater risk for invasive breast cancer than women who only sat for 3 hours per day. This is just more motivation to get moving!
  4. Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption, whether minor or excessive has been shown to increase your risk of developing breast cancer. This is especially true if you already have other risk factors, such as family history.
  5. Avoid hormone replacement therapy. In the past, the symptoms of menopause used to be helped by hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, researchers have proven that women who took the combination of estrogen and progestin used in HRT appeared to be at a greater risk for breast cancer. If you need relief, talk to your doctor about the best way to work through your menopausal symptoms.

As is the case with many health issues, people are often times not educated about breast cancer. Because early detection is so important and could be the difference between successful treatment, or worse—life or death—awareness and education about this disease is essential. If each one of you who reads this blog shows even one other person, think how many more people could gain awareness. Perhaps one more woman would schedule her yearly mammogram,, 5 women increase the time they exercise, or 10 women may begin to perform self-breast exams. Even if someone you love personally never develops breast cancer, 1 in 12 women will. Please raise awareness and do your part to help decrease this number.

*For more information such as risk factors, support, treatment options, etc. please visit the American Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.org

By Natalie Radloff

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