IT’S OCTOBER… NATIONAL BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
In the United States, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women following skin cancer. Due to increased awareness, however, breast cancer survival rates have increased and the number of deaths is declining. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease, understanding your risk and following preventative measures, are critical for maximizing your resistance.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER.
Breast cancer occurs when a number of irregular cells develop into a tumor. These abnormal cells grow rapidly. Most often they start in milk-producing ducts and may spread to other areas of the breast and body.
Symptoms can range from a small lump to an enlarged swollen area in the breast or underarm. Other signs include:
-a change in skin texture or dimpling
-a change in the appearance or inversion of the nipple
-unusual nipple discharge
-pain in the breast area.
Early detection saves lives and is critical for optimizing outcomes and survival rates.
Annual physicals should include a breast examination by the doctor and a self-breast exam should be a part of every women’s ongoing monthly routine. Any changes that are noted should be further evaluated.
Mammograms are x-rayed images of the breast and remain the most effective screening tool today. Women are advised to begin annual mammograms starting at age 40 or sooner if there is a family history.
AM I AT RISK FOR BREAST CANCER?
There are a number of factors that affect one’s risk. These include genetics, environment, lifestyle, gender and age.
Ten percent of women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease, especially when the family member is a first-degree relative. In other words, a parent, offspring, or sibling. Scientists have identified a number of cancer-susceptible genes. BRACA1 and BRACA2 are the most well-known and mutations of these genes account for the majority of hereditary breast cancers.
Ethnicity may also influence risk. Findings show that Hispanic and Asian women are less likely to develop the disease than white women. Additionally, studies have found that people with Eastern European heritage, such as the Ashkenazi Jewish, are at a higher risk.
Research shows exposure air pollution increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Air pollutants such as lead, cadmium, and mercury have the most carcinogenic properties.
Additionally, in a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Cancer, scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that repeated use of hair chemicals and permanent dyes may pose an increased risk.
Other studies link the use of certain pesticides and lawn and garden chemicals to hormone-disrupting cancers. Parabens found in some cosmetics and personal items, such as moisturizers and shaving gels, are being studied for their possible link to the disease.
Choose your lifestyle wisely. Active smoking as well as exposure to secondhand smoke are found to increase the risk for breast cancer. Smoking is not only a risk for developing the disease but may also hinder outcomes and survival rates.
Alcohol consumption poses another risk. The risk appears to increase with the amount of alcohol consumed. There are some studies that suggest an increased intake of dietary folic acid acts to lessen the cancer risk from alcohol, however, results vary with the type of tumor, and no specific amount of folic acid has been indicated.
Inactivity is also thought to influence risk. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and reduces an insulin growth factor associated with breast cancer. Activity also helps to reduce obesity, another risk factor.
Both men and women can develop breast cancer, however, the risk for men is much less. Males have low levels of female hormones and a smaller amount of breast tissue. While men are less likely to develop the disease, they are more likely to be diagnosed at a later and more advanced stage.
For both men and women, age is a risk factor. Most breast cancers in women are diagnosed after the age of 50 and in men after 60.
CAN BREAST CANCER BE PREVENTED?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 30% of all cancers may be related to diet. Good nutrition and healthy eating habits can reduce cancer risk and improve treatment outcomes.
Dietary recommendations include:
-Reduce weight and consume a diet low in fat
-Avoid weight gain in adulthood and excess body fat. Fat cells contribute to estrogen levels and may increase the risk for breast cancer after menopause. Weight loss may lower the risk.
-Eat fewer highly-processed foods such as deli meats, hot dogs and bacon, and less red meat
-Limit alcohol: alcohol consumption increases the risk for breast cancer in both pre- and postmenopausal women.
-Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates: research points to a relationship between surges in blood sugar and an increased risk for certain cancers, including breast cancer.
-Eat more foods high in fiber and a diet rich in plant foods.
-Include non-starchy vegetables and those abundant in carotenoids such as beets, broccoli, kale, squash and sweet potato.
-Evidence supports flax seeds are effective in reducing your risk.
-Increase activity: exercise helps to lower the risk of breast cancer particularly in postmenopausal women. It speeds weight loss, may lower blood estrogen levels and boosts immunity.
HOW CAN I HELP RAISE AWARENESS?
There are a number of simple ways to raise breast cancer awareness.
-Educate yourself first; learn about your own personal risks; Visit the National Cancer Institute’s website and check out their Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool.
-Share information with friends and family; remind those over 40 to get their annual mammogram.
-Visit well known non-profit’s websites, such as Susan G. Koman, to find out about events in your area.
-Organize a silent auction or bake sale to raise money for cancer research.
There are some factors we cannot control such as genetics, gender, and age. However, by reshaping factors that can be modified, such as lifestyle, environment, and diet, we can lower our risk of developing breast cancer.
Be observant and don’t ignore signs and symptoms that can save your life. Make one change at a time and remind family and friends to be vigilant. Pass the word to increase breast cancer awareness!
If you would like more information on diet or lifestyle changes that can lower your risk for breast cancer, our registered dietitians can help devise and individualized a plan for your and your family. Call today at 240-449-3094.