Protect Your Breasts: What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon
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As research for a cure continues, the means of detecting and treating breast cancer continues to improve.  Outside of making donations or possibly becoming a doctor or scientist, that part is largely out of your control. What is under your control is understanding this disease, how you can minimize your risks and how you can increase your odds of survival.

What is cancer?
When a  group of your body’s cells grow abnormally, uncontrolled and are able to migrate to other parts of your body; you have cancer.  A cancerous tumor that is uncontrolled and untreated can spread throughout the body and lead to  death.

What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the development of malignant cells in the lining of the milk glands or ducts of the breast. These abnormal cells can spread through the lymph system to the lymph nodes. If that happens, the breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Among cancers, breast cancer is the second most likely to result in death among women behind lung cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer during her lifetime is 1 in 8.

What are some risk factors?
There are some risk factors that might increase your chances of getting breast cancer. Before we get into those, I want to make something clear.  Some females that develop breast cancer don’t have any of the risk factors and some that have several of the risk factors never get cancer. There is no guarantee, except that having the risk factors increases your odds of developing cancer. A couple of the risk factors you can’t control are:

  • Having a hereditary link through your parent: 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to have a genetic link. BRCA genes are the most commonly inherited genetic mutations that cause cancer.
  • Menstruating for more years: Women who start menstruating before age 12 or reach menopause after age 55 are at a higher risk.

While these risk factors are out of your control, there are some that aren’t.

What risk factors can you control and reduce your risk of breast cancer?
Your odds of developing cancer are not fixed at birth.  There are things that you have the power to change that can decrease your odds of developing breast cancer.

  • Limit alcohol use: Risk increases with alcohol consumption. Not drinking any alcohol provides you with the lowest risk. However, if you enjoy an occasional drink, limit it to no more than one per day to avoid increasing your risk.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese has been linked to an increase in breast cancer risk. Maintain a good weight through a healthy diet and physical activity.
  • Exercise at least 5 days a week: The American Cancer Society recommends 45 – 60 minutes of activity 5-7 days/week. There is a strong correlation between regular exercise and a decreased breast cancer risk.  That doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise, walking would be sufficient for this benefit.
  • Have children earlier and/or have multiple pregnancies: Having multiple children or children earlier in life reduces your risk.
  • Try breast feeding: This may reduce your risk, especially if done for more than a year.
  • Avoid long term menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Studies have shown an increased risk when HRT is used for several years or more. However, if the therapy is stopped, the risk returns to normal after five years.

You’ve minimized your risk factors. Now what?
Through breast self exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms you have a better chance of discovering breast cancer in the early stages when it is more easily and successfully treated. Early detection is key to survival!

  • Breast self exams should be done monthly by women, starting in their 20s.
  • Clinical breast exams should be done every 3 years, until age 40 when they should occur yearly. (Women at higher risk should consult with their doctor about more frequent checks.)
  • Yearly mammograms are recommended for females starting at age 40 by the American Cancer Society. (Women with a strong hereditary predisposition should start earlier.)

In our society, the word “cancer” is a very scary word. It doesn’t have to be. Take control of your destiny and reduce your risk by having a healthy diet, exercising regularly and following proper screening protocols.  Not only can you reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, you can also increase your odds of surviving it!

This post is merely an introduction to the issue of breast cancer. To learn more about Breast Cancer, please visit the American Cancer Society’s website. They have lots of information that will help you understand breast cancer more fully.

Comments (5)

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  1. Rosy says:

    Thanks Talli! Information we, women, need to read over and over.

  2. MizFit says:

    amen to the print and read and share and read and print again…

  3. Thanks. That’s advice every woman should follow. Please don’t put the screening tests off.
    Catching breast cancer early can safe your life. Delaying can be disasterous

  4. Simeon Trieu says:

    Talli, great info. Thanks for that. Cancer is definitely a scary word. I will definitely pass this on to my fiance.

  5. Isabel van Sunder says:

    I was told not to eat or drink much caffeine because it can cause little lumps in my breasts, which can become a problem. Thanks

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