Saturday, November 3, 2007

Simple tips to combat breast cancer

Q. In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, what are some simple tips you can offer to empower women in the fight against breast cancer?
A. It wasn't long ago that people felt helpless when it came to defending themselves against cancer. Now, we know that awareness, medical advancements and personal action can help us win this fight against cancer.
Breast cancer statistics have proven that women can take measures to protect themselves. In the 1980s, there was a rapid increase in breast cancer cases (probably at least in part due to better screening via mammography). Though the increase in cases continued into 2000, it has slowed.
While it is the most common cancer among American women (excluding skin cancers) and the second leading cause of cancer death, there is some very encouraging news. Death rates from breast cancer have continued to decline since 1990, and the largest decreases are in women under age 50. Most likely, these decreases are a direct result of increased awareness, early detection, and improved treatment.

There are two key tools women have when it comes to winning against breast cancer: prevention and early detection. Here are some ways to put these tools to work:
1) Watch Your Weight: Those extra pounds translate into added risk. Added fat cells produce additional estrogen, which can stimulate growth in our breast cells and increase our risk of developing cancer.
2) Exercise Regularly: Research has given us plenty of motivation to embrace daily exercise. Studies have indicated that exercise can lower estrogen levels over time, as well as strengthen our immune system and lower stress.
3) Reduce Estrogen Exposure: Any extra exposure to estrogen can stimulate breast cell growth, thereby increasing our risk of breast cancer. In addition to extra weight, other sources and triggers of estrogen include: hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), significant alcohol consumption, and red meat or other animal fats (including dairy fat).
4) Eat Cancer-Fighting Foods: There is some truth to the old saying, "You are what you eat." Our eating habits directly affect our bodies' functions, from maintaining energy levels to fighting cancer cells. A cancer-fighting diet will include plenty of fruits and vegetables, while limiting fats. Some people are going with organic diets, in hopes of eliminating extra hormones, pesticides and genetically modified organisms from their diets; however, the research is still needed to learn if organic foods carry additional health benefits over other foods.
5) Quit Smoking: If you needed another reason to quit, here it is. Smoking is a key culprit behind many diseases, and breast cancer is one of them. If you have breast cancer, smoking can even interfere with your treatment. Talk with your physician to learn about the many resources available to you to help you stop smoking.
6) Know Your Risk: Most women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors and having one or more risk factors doesn't necessarily mean you'll get breast cancer; however, women should discuss their risk factors with their physician. This information may affect their recommendations for mammograms. There is a wide range of uncontrollable and controllable risk factors. Some of these include: age, genetics, family history, previous incidence of breast cancer or abnormal biopsy, weight, alcohol use, and tobacco use.
Another key factor is race. Overall, Caucasian women have the highest incidence rate for breast cancer among U.S. racial/ethnic groups, but African American women have the highest death rate from breast cancer. Research has shown that African American tend to seek treatment when their cancer is at a more advanced, less treatable stage, which tells us there continues to be a need for increased awareness and accessibility to health care resources.

1) Regular Exams: Around age 20, women should self-examine their breasts monthly, about three to five days after their period ends. This allows women to become familiar with their breasts' normal structure and identify any changes or abnormal characteristics. Also, your physician should exam your breasts once every three years starting at age 20, and every year after age 40. If you're not sure if you're doing a self-exam properly, talk to your physician.
2) Report Any Changes: In addition to lumps or masses within the breast tissue, women should look for changes in skin color (reddening or bruised appearance) or texture (ridges or dimpling), nipple changes, nipple discharge, swelling and changes in shape or symmetry. Also, talk to your doctor if you experience any tenderness or burning in your breasts.
3) Get Your Mammogram: Mammograms are an extremely powerful ally in detecting breast cancer in its early stages. At age 35, women should consider getting a baseline mammogram, which provides a reference point for future mammograms. At age 40, women should begin getting a yearly mammogram.

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