Reduce your risk of breast cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most-feared diseases among women. Its direct causes are unknown, but researchers have found that several lifestyle-related behaviors are linked to an increased risk of the disease.
Breast-cancer risk seems to be tied to the amount and activity of the hormone estrogen in your body. Bad habits such as smoking, drinking and not exercising can promote excessive estrogen production or increase its effect on your body.
These steps may reduce your risk of breast cancer and improve your overall health:
- Avoid high-fat foods. Studies show that fat plays a role is the development of breast cancer. Fat has also been linked to ovarian, prostate and colon cancers, which, like breast cancer, are affected by hormones.
- Eat high-fiber foods. Foods that are high in fiber, such as beans, bran, whole grains and fruits, help prevent breast cancer by removing excess estrogen from your body. They also reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Don't smoke. Smoking is known to cause lung cancer, and evidence also links it to breast cancer. One study of 3,200 women found smokers were 60 percent more likely to get breast cancer than nonsmokers.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight is linked to breast cancer because extra fat tissue produces more estrogen.
- Do aerobic exercise regularly. One study of 1,000 women under age 40 found those who exercised at least four hours a week lowered their risk of breast cancer by 60 percent. Those who worked out one to three hours a week lowered their risk by 30 percent.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. More than 40 studies have linked alcohol abuse to an increased breast-cancer risk.
- Do monthly breast self-exams and have your doctor perform an annual breast exam. If you're over 40, have a mammogram every one to two years or as advised by your doctor. If you're under 40, your doctor may suggest you have a mammogram if you have a family history of breast cancer.
How to perform a breast exam
Since 90 percent of all breast tumors are discovered by women themselves, it's a good idea to develop the habit of examining your breasts.
Examine your breasts around the same time each month. It's best to do your exam two to three days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen.
- Stand in front of a mirror. Inspect both breasts for anything unusual such as a discharge from the nipples or puckering, dimples or scaling of your skin.
- Raise your arms over your head and check for the same signs. Inspect your breasts while pressing your palms together over your head, and then again with your hands on your hips.
- Gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge.
- The next part of the exam should be done while lying down. Lie on your back with your right hand under your head. Using the flat part of your fingers of your left hand, start pressing your right breast. Begin at the outside edge of the breast, and rotate in a circle toward the nipple, without lifting your fingers, until you have covered the the entire area of your breast.
- Then move your arm down to your side and feel the upper and inner part of your armpit, the area between your armpit and your nipple, and finally between the outer lower part of your breast and nipple.
- Repeat these steps for your other breast, using the opposite hand to examine it.
- Expect to feel many normal lumps. Try to get to know these so you can detect changes in the future. Any changes should be reported to your doctor, but they don't mean you have breast cancer. Eighty to 90 percent of all breast lumps are benign (not cancerous).
Baptist Health Louisville offers mammography services through its Women's Imaging Services, located in the hospital. For more information about mammography services or for a free breast self-exam chart, call the Baptist Health Information Center at (502) 897-8131 or e-mail BHEInfoCenter@bhsi.com.