4 Steps to Take Control of Your Breast Health
Of course, knowing your family history and keeping up with regular clinical exams are both key to your health, but did you know that there is a multitude of other measures you can take to care for your breasts? Make your breast health a priority with these super simple lifestyle tips.
Self-exams aren’t as accurate as clinical breast exams or mammograms, so they shouldn’t be your only screening measure. However, it’s still a good idea to get to know what’s normal for your breasts, as you might notice a change in between appointments that you can then more quickly bring to the attention of your doctor. You know your breasts best!
The Susan G. Komen foundation advises taking note of any changes in breast size and shape, any new pain, nipple discharge, rashes, or discoloration of the skin. These self-exams are particularly crucial for women under the age of 40, as they aren’t required to undergo clinical exams or mammograms nearly as often. It’s best to conduct these self-exams monthly, ideally after your period ends and your breasts return to a “normal” state after any hormonal changes.
Wear supportive, well-fitting bras
The debate about whether underwire bras can raise your risk of developing breast cancer has been debunked by countless physicians, so if you feel more comfortable wearing one regularly, don’t stress. However, it’s crucial that your bra fits properly: A bra that’s far too tight could restrict lymph drainage, which plays a key role in breast health.
The lymphatic system is responsible for aiding in removing toxins and waste from breast tissue and other parts of the body, so you don’t want to wear a bra that’s so tight that the underwire puts excess pressure on it. So you might consider getting professionally fitted to ensure you’re wearing the right size bra. The good news is that you can also find a supportive bra that offers shaping, definition, and lift without the wires.
A well-constructed, supportive sports bra is also key. Physical activity puts a lot of strain on your breasts from all the bouncing, and as breasts have no muscle, support from a bra is key to preventing the skin and Cooper’s ligaments (which are responsible for maintaining their shape) from breaking down. Look for a bra with wide, adjustable straps that offer adequate bounce control whether you’re participating in low-impact or high-impact exercise.
There are several reasons why it’s a good idea to incorporate regular exercise in your life in regards to your breast health efforts. An American Cancer Society study discovered that women who’d gained 21 to 30 pounds since the age of 18 were 40 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who gained a maximum of 5 pounds. This is because estrogen increases the more fat in a woman’s body, and estrogen is a hormone that can stimulate cell overgrowth, which can lead to breast cancer.
Fortunately, studies have shown that exercise can lower levels of estrogen by a notable 10 to 20 percent. You don’t have to train for a marathon to experience these benefits, either: the Women’s Health Initiative found that women who simply walked briskly for 1¼ to 2½ hours a week had an 18 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who weren’t active at all. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week in order to protect yourself from breast cancer (as well as other cancers).
There are plenty of health reasons why you want to be conscious of your diet, and that includes decreasing your risk of breast cancer. Harvard researchers found that women who had the highest carotenoid levels in their blood had a 19% lower risk of breast cancer. Moreover, women who consumed more carotenoids had an even lower risk of developing the more aggressive estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer. Carotenoids can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables including dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, and apricots.
Specifically, lycopene (which is found in tomatoes), was found by one study to be the most effective carotenoid in reducing breast cancer risk. Sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts, has also been found to inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells. Damaged DNA has been linked to cancer, but folate is known to have the ability to repair it — find this naturally occurring form of folic acid in foods such as black-eyed peas, spinach, and fortified cereals. When taking a vitamin, look on the ingredient list specifically for “folate” instead of “folic acid.”
The American Cancer Society advises consuming at least five servings of fruits and veggies daily, as well as limiting your consumption of processed and red meats, and opting for whole grains, to help reduce risks of all cancer types.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, but it’s worth noting that alcohol consumption also increases estrogen levels, thus raising your risk of developing breast cancer. So try to limit yourself to one drink a night.