October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed in over ninety countries around the world. And there’s a very good reason for that. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.38 million people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with 458,000 annual fatalities. That’s why it’s so important to take breast cancer prevention and screening seriously. It’s much more than an excuse for stores to sell cute pink merchandise.
Fortunately, you can take steps today to minimize your risk of breast cancer, and it’s generally treatable when caught early. Here, I will take you through the basics of breast health and provide you with smart tools for early detection. When it comes to your body, knowledge is power!
Who is at Risk of Breast Cancer?
Did you know that anyone with breast tissue can get breast cancer? That’s right: It can affect any one of us, regardless of biological sex, so this breast cancer awareness is important for everyone. That said, we’re not all at equal risk. You may be at an increased risk for developing breast cancer if you:
- Were assigned female at birth
- Are above the age of fifty
- Are white
- Have a mother, daughter, or sister who had the disease
- Have had breast cancer or other breast diseases before
- Take oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy
- Have received radiation treatment in your chest area
- Have not had children
- Did not breastfeed your children
- Drink alcohol on a regular basis
- Live a sedentary lifestyle or are considered overweight
- Reached menarche (your first menstrual period) before age twelve
- Reached menopause after age fifty
- Have mutations in your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
If you find that many of these points apply to you, don’t stress just yet. Being at an increased risk doesn’t guarantee you will get breast cancer. And while you may be more prone to it, you’re not powerless when it comes to prevention. Let’s check out some of the ways you can fight back.
How to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Here are some of the most effective ways to minimize your risk of breast cancer. Don’t worry—you’re probably doing many of these things already. And if not, there’s no time like now to make some smart changes to your lifestyle! These aspects of breast cancer awareness are natural part of staying healthy and happy.
- See Your Doctor Annually
- Know the Signs and Symptoms
- Maintain a Healthy Weight
- Enjoy Alcoholic Beverages in Moderation
- Breastfeed Your Baby
See Your Doctor Annually
There’s no better ally in your quest to stay cancer-free than a medical practitioner you like and trust. See your doctor annually or as often as he or she recommends, and be forthcoming with your health history. Now that you know the risk factors for breast cancer, be sure your doctor knows all the details. If your close female relatives have had breast cancer, for example, you may want to talk to your doc about extra monitoring. And be sure to share with all your care providers the names and doses of any medications you take.
Oh, and do you remember those breast self-exams we used to read about all the time? Current evidence suggests they do not lower your risk of death from breast cancer. If you do choose to do them, however, make sure it’s in conjunction with care from a medical professional. And, of course, never skip a doctor-recommended mammogram. (Having your first? Here are some handy tips to prepare for one.)
Know the Signs and Symptoms
When it comes to keeping your breasts healthy, it’s essential to know when you need medical attention. Simply increasing your awareness of the signs of breast cancer can help you catch and report possible problems early. Reach out to your care provider if you notice:
- Changes in the shape or size of your breast
- Any lump or breast pain
- Any nipple discharge other than breast milk
You can experience changes in your breasts without having breast cancer, so don’t panic if you notice something new. You could be feeling sore, for example, due to your period, pregnancy, or other hormonal changes. Do you feel something that doesn’t belong there? You should know that many breast lumps are benign.
That said, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor to make sure everything is as it should be. When it comes to your health, it’s truly better to be safe than sorry.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Experts believe that being overweight after menopause is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer. And while it doesn’t apply to you if you haven’t reached menopause yet, carrying extra pounds is bad for your health in many other ways. That’s why it’s so important to eat a diet of nutritious foods, watch your portion sizes, and get regular exercise. You’ll lower your risk of breast cancer along with many other serious conditions, like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Enjoy Alcoholic Beverages in Moderation
Research suggests a strong link between regular alcohol consumption and breast cancer. If you imbibe on a daily or even weekly basis, you may want to consider cutting back. Breastcancer.org cites evidence that women consuming three or more alcoholic drinks per week have a fifteen percent higher risk of developing breast cancer.
If you love a glass of wine in the evening, you don’t have to give it up entirely. Just make it your Saturday night ritual—and keep it to one modest-sized glass.
Breastfeed Your Baby
You know breastfeeding has awesome benefits for your baby, but it’s good for you too. It can help lower your risk of breast cancer, as well as ovarian cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. If it works for both you and your baby, keep at it for as long as you can!
Spreading Awareness about Breast Cancer
Now that you’re more familiar with your breast cancer risk and preventative measures, it’s time to share your knowledge. Be sure your family and friends are aware too—and remind them that anyone can develop breast cancer. There’s no way to completely eliminate our risk, but by staying in tune with our bodies, we can detect problems and get help quickly. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time and scientific research before cancers like this one are completely preventable. In the meantime, be aware and be well!