October may be the official month for Breast Cancer Awareness, but breast cancer awareness and prevention should be on everyone’s mind every month of the year.
As the days become warmer and many of us break out the swimsuits and tank tops, we may be more aware of our breasts than we are in the winter. The breasts of both sexes tend to be on display more, so what better time than now to talk about breast cancer prevention?
As I have shared in previous posts, there is a strong history of cancer in my family. However, breast cancer is the first cancer that I became aware of: my mother once confided that she had a recurring nightmare of being in a doctor’s office and being told she had terminal breast cancer.
A family friend’s brother developed breast cancer and died shortly after being diagnosed. (Like many, he had no idea that men could develop breast cancer and by the time he finally got that suspicious lump looked at, it had already spread.)
The recent news that Dancing with the Stars ex co-host, Samantha Harris, has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer at the relatively young age of 40 is yet another reminder that breast cancer cuts across all races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and as I mentioned above, even across the sexes.
While it is estimated that this year 232,570 American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer (as well as approximately 2,360 American men), there are steps that all of us can take today to lower our risk of developing this devastating disease.
Best of all, these things are all pretty easy for nearly everyone to adapt. Below are five tips:
1. Lay off or reduce the booze.
Studies have shown that the greater the alcohol intake, the greater the breast cancer risk. For those of us with a family history of breast cancer, the best thing to do is to eliminate it all together. If that doesn’t sound doable, then at least cut it back. Experts recommend no more than one drink a day.
Physical activity has so many benefits in breast cancer prevention. For one thing, it can help keep us at a normal, healthy body weight. (Being overweight increases the risk of breast cancer.) Also, as Susun S. Weed points out in her book, Breast Cancer? Breast Health! “exercise stops the formation of carcinogenic metabolic by-products from the breakdown of estrogens.” It also has a tendency to strengthen the immune system as well.
Therefore, find a physical activity (or activities) that you enjoy, and try to engage in them at least three times a week for 30 minutes minimum.
3. Get some sunlight.
While too much sunlight can lead to skin cancer, it turns out that too little isn’t good for us either. At least one study reported in The American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that increased sunlight may decrease advanced breast cancer. This is due to the fact that exposure to sunlight causes the body to produce Vitamin D.
Another advantage is that when exposed to sunlight, the pineal gland decreases melatonin (aka the sleep hormone) until the sun goes down again. (This in turns helps us to sleep better.) There is evidence to suggest that those who do not experience these natural cycles of decreased melatonin during the day and increased production at night may be at greater risk for breast cancer.)
However, be sensible about sun exposure. Those who have had or are at an increased risk for skin cancer may be better off talking to their health care providers about Vitamin D supplements.
In closing, breast cancer (like all cancer) is scary, but there are some simple things we can do to lower our risks.
Also, getting to know what healthy, normal breast tissue feels like is essential, too. Women and men should engage in regular, monthly breast examinations. (A health care provider or even the internet can be a great source.) Any unusual changes or lumps should be checked out as soon as possible.
This is certainly one of those situations where an ounce of prevention may be equal to a pound or more of cure.
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Editor: Travis May