September is a special month, not only for all of the fall lovers out there, but for those women who have suffered, are suffering, or know someone who is suffering from breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an entire month designated for the annual campaign to raise awareness for a disease that has taken the lives of so many women all over the world. Breast cancer should be a concern to every woman, not just those who have a family history of the disease. It is important to be knowledgeable about the risk factors. Early detection and preventative measures are key to keeping yourself breast cancer free.
-Personal history of breast cancer
-Family history of breast cancer (first degree relative-mother, sister, daughter)
-Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy
Factors that Lower Risk
-Onset of menstrual period at an older age
-Giving birth to your first child at a younger age, breastfeeding your children, or having several births
Warning Signs and Symptoms
It is important to be aware of any changes in your breasts. Identifying a symptom of breast cancer does not mean you have cancer, but is reason to visit your healthcare professional for an examination. Regularly performing self-examinations will help you identify abnormalities that occur. In addition to self-examinations, be sure to get regular screenings performed by a doctor. Symptoms to look out for on the surface of the breast and nipple include dimpling, scaling, swelling, or redness. Around the nipple, check for tenderness, a nipple that is inverted or turning inward, and discharge which is either clear or bloody. Observe changes in breast size or shape such as swelling, shrinking, or abnormal asymmetry. Remember that it is not uncommon for your breasts to differ slightly in size, but if it is a recent change an examination is recommended. Abnormalities such as hardened lumps under the surface of your breast, nipple, or underarm area may also be felt. While lumps are not always cancerous, they should always be examined professionally.
Nutrition Tips to Lower Your Risk
The National Cancer Institute suggests the following guidelines for cancer prevention:
-Increase intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods contain a variety of phytochemicals and antioxidants which have proven benefits for disease prevention by blocking the oxidation of free radicals in the body that cause damage to cells, including damage that may lead to cancer. Foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, green tea, citrus fruits and dark green leafy vegetables all contain these cancer fighting nutrients.
-Decrease fat intake to less than 30% of calories. There have been some studies that suggest that the type of fat you eat may influence the development of breast cancer, but this remains a controversial topic. Therefore, it is still recommended that you choose healthier, monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids from fish, which have been linked to inhibit the growth of breast tumors. Limit your intake of the less healthy saturated and trans fats. These types of fats are found in red meat, cheeses, ice cream, butter and processed baked goods, crackers and margarines.
-Minimize intake of cured, pickled and smoked foods.
-Achieve a healthy body weight. Obese women have a higher risk for developing breast cancer. Following the above guidelines to incorporate more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats into your diet is the best way to not only improve your health but lose weight.
-Increase physical activity. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests increasing physical activity by as little as 1-2 hours per week can lower your breast cancer risk by 18%. Becoming more physically active is also a way to achieve a healthy body weight and improve insulin sensitivity of your cells (high insulin levels have been linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer).
-Drink alcohol in moderation. According to the American Cancer Society, drinking alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. As a precaution women are advised to limit alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink per day, or even less if you can.
Unfortunately, breast cancer is a disease that is highly associated with risk factors you cannot control and the truth is there is conflicting evidence regarding the association between diet and breast cancer risk. Though the relationship is unclear, eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is the best thing you can do. Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats and maintaining an active lifestyle is the best measure you can take not only in breast cancer prevention, but in the prevention of all diseases.