To Your Health: Preventive care key to good breast health
By Lorian Williams and Laura Jester June 26, 2012 1:44PM
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:17AM
As women, being in tune with our bodies is paramount to maintaining good health. This includes being proactive about breast health.
There are many components to good breast health. One of the first and most important is preventive routine care of our breasts. Breast self exams are instrumental in recognizing changes in tissue.
Performing regular monthly exams is crucial. Research has proven that changes in tissue are usually recognized by women completing self exams. This is not done in an effort to find lumps or masses. This is done to become familiar with your breast so when there are changes you will notice them right away.
Timing is everything when it comes to completing monthly exams. Younger women who are still menstruating should perform exams seven days after their menses when their breasts are less tender. Lumps are not necessarily abnormal and can appear and disappear with the menstrual cycle.
Women who are no longer menstruating should pick a day in the month such as their day of birth. Women should see their health care provider to obtain educational tools that demonstrate the correct method for completing an exam.
Another component to good breast health is making sure to get an annual breast exam by your health care provider and annual mammograms starting at 40. Mammograms are the most effective method of early detection of breast cancer since it can identify cancer several years before physical symptoms develop. Early detection can lead to a greater range of treatment options.
The American Cancer Society guidelines also recommend annual magnetic resonance imaging in addition to mammograms for women at high risk for breast cancer. Women with a family history of breast cancer, especially in a first-degree relative such as mother, sister, daughter or father, are at increased risk and that risk is higher if more than one first-degree relative developed breast cancer. A family history of ovarian cancer also is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
In addition to breast self-exams there are several healthy strategies women can adopt to maintain good breast health.
Obesity increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Women should avoid excessive weight gain. Balancing calorie intake with physical activity is equally as important. Choose foods and drinks in amounts that will help achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Women should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least five days per week.
Numerous studies have confirmed that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women. It is recommended that women drink no more than one drink per day.
Although there is no evidence that smoking causes breast cancer, it is clear that not smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke has multiple health benefits. Women who choose to breast-feed for a year or more may also reduce their breast cancer risk.
Women also should consider the risks with the use of estrogen and progestin when evaluating treatment options for menopausal symptoms as menopausal hormones (previously referred to as hormone replacement therapy) increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
There have been several concerns raised and claims proposed as to other possible causes of breast cancer. At this time, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that shows any association between breast cancer and underwire bras, antiperspirants, breast implants, women who have had an abortion or environmental pollutants such as organochlorine pesticides.
Breast cancer typically produces no symptoms when the tumor is small and treatable. Therefore, it is very important for women to follow screening guidelines for detecting cancer at an early stage.
Lorian Williams is the manger of clinical operations and Laura Jester is an advanced practice nurse, both with Women’s and Infants Health Services at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.