It’s been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva that every 19 seconds, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Closer to home, the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology affirms that one out of thirteen females in the Philippines is likely to acquire breast cancer.
The increasing prevalence of the disease is alarming, considering how serious its impacts are on one’s health. In fact, according to recent studies, an estimated 40% of women with breast cancer die within 10 years of the diagnosis.
Although it’s scientifically impossible to prevent breast cancer, one can take measures to lower chances of developing the disease. In addition, early detection of abnormalities and cancer cells is critical for improving the treatment’s success rate.
If you want to optimize your health and lessen your likelihood of getting breast cancer, follow these top tips. But before we dive into the details, let’s discuss the common risk factors associated with breast cancer.
RISK FACTORS OF BREAST CANCER
Contrary to popular belief, men can also get breast cancer. However, women have a significantly higher likelihood, since their breast cells are undergoing constant changes due to major activities of the hormones progesterone and estrogen.
Smoking and alcohol consumption are associated with increased risk of breast cancer. Studies have shown that alcohol can restrict the liver’s ability to regulate estrogen levels in the blood.
Dr. Rachel Rosario, executive director of the Philippine Cancer Society affirms that simply growing older can increase the risks. In fact, the Breastcancer.org states that by the time a woman reaches 60 years old, her breast cancer risk spikes up to 3.5%.
Long-term exposure to estrogen
As previously discussed, estrogen is directly linked to the development of breast cancer, considering that it is the hormone responsible for stimulating breast cell growth. When a woman is continuously exposed to estrogen over a substantial period of time, her risk for breast cancer intensifies.
Genetics, family history, and personal history
Some individuals’ genetic composition drastically affects their breast cancer risks. Moreover, if you happen to have a first-degree relative or multiple relatives who had been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, your likelihood also heightens. The same applies to your personal medical history, as being diagnosed with breast cancer in the past increases the chances of recurrence.
Using oral contraceptives
Regular use of birth control pills is found to have a slight effect in increasing a woman’s breast cancer risk. However, those who have stopped their usage of oral contraceptives for more than a decade don’t appear to medically show increased risk.
Women who did not have children are more vulnerable to getting breast cancer. Those who had their first pregnancy after the age of 30 are at a higher risk as well.
Adequate exercise is needed to normalize hormones, promote energy balance, maintain a healthy weight, and combat inflammation. All these are linked to improving overall health and lowering breast cancer risks.
What to Watch Out For
Here are some common signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
- Breast lump or thickening
- Visible lump on the armpit
- Evident change in the breast’s shape, size, or appearance
- Noticeable changes in the skin over the breast, such as redness, pitting, dimpling
- Peeling, flaking, crusting or scaling of the areola
- Nipple changes (e.g. becoming newly inverted)
- Nipple discharge
How to Lower Your Risks of Breast Cancer
As you have probably noticed, some of the risk factors discussed above are actually within your control. It may not be possible to change your gender, genetic makeup, or age, but it’s perfectly doable to lead a healthier lifestyle. With that, here are some preventative guidelines to observe.
Exercise regularly. The American Cancer Society recommends adult women to engage in a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity or about 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week.
Eat right. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to no less than five cups per day. Limit your daily fat intake to 30 grams, and make sure that only 10% of your total calories are from saturated fat. Consume plenty of food that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid processed or smoked meats and food high in trans fats.
Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation triggers stress and anxiety. It can also compromise your hormone levels and lead to imbalances. To function at your best, you need between seven to nine hours of good quality sleep each night.
Perform breast self-examinations (BSE). According to the Johns Hopkins Medical Center, 40% of breast cancer diagnoses are detected with the aid of BSEs. Thus, it is vital to establish a regular breast self-exam routine of at least once a month.
Take a mammography exam. A mammography exam or a mammogram helps in the initial detection and diagnosis of breast cancer and other types of breast diseases. If your doctor finds any abnormalities during the mammogram, you may also be recommended to undergo a breast ultrasound to boost accuracy of the diagnosis.
Prophylactic mastectomy. This surgery entails the removal of one or both breasts to reduce breast cancer risks. Although still highly controversial, it is suggested for women who carry gene mutations (i.e. BRCA1 or BRCA2), as it can lower risks by up to 95%. As for women with a strong family history, undergoing a prophylactic mastectomy can reduce up to 90% of their likelihood of breast cancer development.
Visiting a breast clinic at least once a year is important for assurance and peace of mind. If you are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, due to genetics and medical history, it’s even more indispensable to have regular screenings. Performing monthly BSEs is also crucial to determine any problems with your breasts as early as possible.
For more comprehensive information and guidance, you can consult a qualified medical professional at a cancer center.