For many healthy young women, breast cancer is something to think about later. Yet the disease affects one in eight women, and can develop from an accumulation of factors over time. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, start treating yourself well by focusing on the following breast health tips early.
01. Keep up with screenings.
A clinical breast exam (CBE) every three years is the most recommended screening for women in their 20s and 30s. Yearly mammograms start at forty. As for breast self-exams as a screening tool? Consider those a thing of the past; experts say they aren’t as accurate as CBEs or mammograms so it's important to get the recommended screening depending on your age and risk factors.
02. Know your breasts.
It’s important to know what’s normal for your body, even if self-exams aren’t recommended as your only screening tool. The Susan G. Komen foundation suggests noting changes in size and shape, unfamiliar pain, nipple discharge, skin rashes, or discoloration. A hard lump in your breast or underarm might be a concern, but remember that breast tissue is naturally bumpy. Tell your doctor if something worries you.
03. Check your genetic history.
Get to know your family’s health history and make a move from there. Breast cancer risk doubles when a mother, sister, or daughter is diagnosed, and triples when more than one relative is diagnosed. If so, start the mammograms at 30. Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, of Missouri’s Siteman Cancer Center, encourages high-risk women to consult a doctor for accurate risk assessments and detailed prevention options.
04. Maintain a healthy weight.
While most breast cancers develop after menopause, extra pounds from your 20s and 30s can increase risk. “This doesn’t mean young women should obsess about weight,” says Dr. Colditz, “but a healthy approach is key to boosting lifelong breast health.” Aim for a well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. For extra cancer-fighting properties, incorporate antioxidant-rich superfoods into your diet. “Try to fill two-thirds of your plate with plant foods, and you’ll be good to go,” advises Natalie Weiss, RD, LDN, author of Eating for Breast Cancer Prevention.
05. Get moving.
Studies show that exercise decreases levels of estrogen, a hormone linked to breast cancer and stored in fat tissue. Exercise also boosts your immune system and lowers your risk for other associated diseases. You’re looking at an amazing 10 to 20 percent decrease in risk. “Find something you enjoy, whether it’s yoga, Pilates, or jogging,” suggests Weiss. “Walking counts, too!”
06. Limit alcohol and tobacco.
It’s no secret that alcohol and tobacco are toxic to our bodies. “If you drink, keep it moderate. No more than one drink daily,” says Dr. Colditz. Alcohol consumption also increases estrogen levels. And while smoking has an unclear relationship with breast cancer, it can still lead to other cancers and diseases.
07. Consider breastfeeding.
Research has shown that breastfeeding may decrease the risk of certain breast cancers through estrogen-lowering mechanisms. Dr. Tina Hong, OB/GYN, shares, "There is solid evidence from numerous meta-analyses that breastfeeding lowers the risk of both hormone receptor positive (ER+/PR+) and hormone receptor negative (ER-/PR-) breast cancers. The data shows that breastfeeding for even just one year can lower a woman's risk. Please keep in mind that breastfeeding also lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and postpartum depression." These potential added benefits are something to keep in mind if you choose to breastfeed your children.