How to Keep Your Breasts Healthy
The recent surge in breast cancer awareness–though effective at increasing support for patients and furthering the mission to develop a cure—has created a cultural fear surrounding the disease. This sense of fear tends to detract from a far more important, yet far less well-known messages regarding breast cancer: the preventative measures that can be taken by all women to reduce the risk of its development. Here are some easy lifestyle changes that can significantly improve breast health and keep your breasts healthy.
1. Regular Exercise
Before menopause, most estrogen production takes place in the ovaries. After menopause estrogen production becomes a function of fat cells. Exercise shrinks these cells, resulting in decreased estrogen production. The American Cancer association recommends a minimum of 175 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise a week. The Women’s Health Initiative estimates that just 1.25—2.5 hours a week of brisk walking can reduce breast cancer risk by 18 percent.
Excess fat around the waist area tends to affect the risk of cancer more than fat in other areas of the body such as thighs and hips. Moreover, the risk appears to be greater for those women who have gained weight as an adult, rather than those who have been overweight since childhood.
2. Sleep Well
A good night’s sleep leads to suppressed melatonin levels. Melatonin is thought to help regulate estrogen. A study conducted by the International Journal of Cancer found that breast cancer incidence was 30 percent higher among women who worked shifts. Sleep is also necessary for the health of your immune system. This is important in breast cancer prevention as your immune system plays a role in recognizing and destroying cancer cells.
3. Healthy Eating
Fruits and vegetables are rich in many different antioxidants which help lower the risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast tumors developing. Such tumors account for about 15 percent of breast cancers.
4. Include Folic Acid into Your Diet
Folic acid is involved in the production of genetic material (DNA). As cancers are related to the damaged DNA, folic acid consumption can help in their prevention. Food rich in folic acid include dark, leafy green vegetables, certain fruits such as bananas, melons and lemons, mushrooms, beans and red meat.
Breastfeeding (especially for periods of one year or more) is healthy not only for the child, but for the mother as well. This is, because milking limits breast cell’s ability to act abnormally. Women also tend to have fewer menstrual cycles when breast feeding, resulting in lower levels of the female sex hormone estrogen. There is strong evidence that estrogen plays a role in the development and growth of breast cancer.
6. Know Your Breasts
It is extremely important that women of all ages are able to recognize what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to their breasts. Familiarity with individual breast shape, size and texture can make it easy to identify whether something may be awry.
Potentially dangerous symptoms to look out for include:
- Swelling around the breast or collarbone
- A firm lump that was not there previously
- Dry, irritated thickened skin around the nipple
- Warmth or itching sensations in the breasts
- Leakage of blood, or other fluids from the nipples
Breasts may change naturally with age, during pregnancy or during different stages of the menstrual cycle.
Women who believe themselves to be at a high risk of developing breast cancer should consult their health care professional as to whether they should start getting screening tests, known as mammograms.
7. Understanding Your Birth Control
Hormonal birth control methods may have a profound impact on breast cancer risk. Women should assess this risk with their doctors before deciding, which type of birth control would be most suitable for them.