October is an especially important month for women’s health all over the world. It’s all about bringing more awareness to breast cancer, a disease that affects millions of women every year. But thanks to early detection, breast cancer death rates have declined 40% from 1989.
So, what are the signs and steps you can take to reduce your risk of a poor prognosis and ensure early detection?
1. Don’t skip your yearly breast cancer screenings
Even though women have a 13% risk of developing cancer, it is highly survivable when found and treated early. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, if the cancer hasn’t spread to anywhere else in the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%.
Thanks to many years of breast cancer awareness, women are much more conscious and proactive about their yearly screenings than in the past. Women no longer wait for symptoms to start, which is also why early detection is so important. Often times, symptoms show up much later in the cancer’s progression, so it’s best to check up on your breast health more consistently.
Innovative technologies and improved screening techniques have also made a huge difference over the years. Breast ultrasounds, MRIs, and mammograms have evolved to achieve precise early detection, and genetic testing can be done to search for two distinct genes that scientists have found to put women at risk: BRCA1 and BRCA2. Genetic testing can help women gauge their genetic level of risk and highlight a need for lifestyle changes that would bring the risk to an absolute minimum.
2. Look out for lifestyle risk factors you can change
Regardless of the prevalence of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, there are always lifestyle factors that be put in place to limit the risk of developing breast cancer. These risks include:
• Stay at a healthy weight.
• Eat healthful foods rich in nutrients.
• Limit unhealthy eating habits.
• Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.
• Limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day, or avoid it altogether.
A healthy lifestyle is like a universal panacea: it reduces the risk for a wide range of diseases, especially breast cancer. For many busy mothers out there, changing your lifestyle can be taxing, but a little guidance always goes a long way. Seek out a health coach who can help you limit your risk of breast cancer to an absolute minimum.
3. Always do a monthly self-exam
Even though yearly screenings are most likely to prevent a late diagnosis, you should do a self-test at least once a month in case you should feel any signs or symptoms before your yearly exam is up.
Here are all the signs and symptoms to look out for:
• Lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
• Swelling or thickening of all or part of the breast
• Dimpling or skin irritation of breast skin
• Localized, persistent breast pain
• Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
• Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
• Any change in the size or shape of the breast
Here’s how to do your self-exam:
1. First, observe your breasts in the mirror. Looks for any unusual changes in size, shape, or color. Note any distortions.
2. Then, raise your arms and look for the same changes. Note any unusual observations.
3. Next, feel your breasts while lying down with your index and middle fingers. Using a light to medium pressure, gently feel around and into the tissue in circles, looking for any lumps.
4. Now, repeat step 3 again, but this time standing up with your arm raised.
This self-exam has helped countless women detect changes and lumps earlier on, taking the next steps with their doctor as soon as they could and preventing a poor prognosis. If you do notice any signs or symptoms, it’s important to remain calm and be formally checked as soon as possible.
If you want more information about breast cancer or would like to join the cause for awareness, visit https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/.