by Darra McMullen, Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
As we close out October and move into early November, now seems to be the perfect time to review what we may (or may not) have heard in bits and pieces about breast cancer in the various media throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Before we get into those details, let’s take a brief moment to recognize and remember that the beloved men in our lives are at risk for breast cancer too, and as loving wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, aunts, friends, or co-workers, we should remember to gently chide our men to be aware of their risk and proactive in getting checked out for possible tumor growth. Breast cancer seems to be a particularly difficult topic for many men to broach with their doctors due to the disease’s “effeminate” reputation, but the truth is the disease can hit anyone of either sex and should be taken seriously – just like any other life-threatening ailment.
Breast cancer fundamentals:
Now let’s move on to some breast cancer basics.
With one in eight women likely to become breast cancer victims at some point in their lives, now is the perfect time to increase our awareness of this serious problem and learn more about breast cancer detection and prevention.
As women grow older, the risk of breast cancer increases. Nearly 8 out of 10 breast cancers occur in women older than age 50, according to American Cancer Society statistics. That’s not to say that younger women can’t get the disease also. In fact, an alarming number of young women in their 20’s and 30’s have had to deal with the numerous scary aspects of breast cancer, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, drug side effects, and the possibility of death or, at least, infertility due to cancer treatment.
The various contributing causes of breast cancer are not all known at this time, and therefore, no definite way to prevent the cancer’s occurrence is available. There are some lifestyle steps women can take to reduce their risk of breast cancer, or other cancers, from developing. (Details on these lifestyle steps follow shortly.)
The best option for effectively dealing with breast cancer is early detection. Cancers caught early require less severe treatments, saving misery, money, and time out of daily life activities for the cancer patient. Life expectancy rates also are much brighter for the patient whose cancer is caught early.
Screenings are very important for breast health!
Depending on which group of experts you refer to for advice, mammograms should become yearly events at age 40, 45, or 50. Generally, women younger than 40 are urged to talk with their doctors about an appropriate screening schedule based on individual factors. Of course, high-risk women of any age may need more frequent screenings and/or screenings with added dimensions of testing, such as ultrasound. Women of any age with dense breast tissue are in particular need of ultrasound or MRI testing in addition to mammograms because mammograms cannot always detect small tumors in dense breasts.
Yearly manual breast exams by a doctor or nurse are a good idea for all women of all ages. Young women may be able to extend to an every two or three year testing schedule, but do so only after consulting with a doctor for guidance.
Self-exams of the breast on a frequent (often monthly) schedule are a good idea and can help the individual woman familiarize herself with what’s normal for her particular body. Self- exams have led many a woman to discover a problem (sometimes cancer, sometimes another condition) with her breasts. Early treatment of any problem – cancer, benign tumors, bacterial or fungal infections, etc. – generally leads to a more successful outcome and quicker resolution of the situation.
When it comes to screenings, the most important thing to do is open up a comfortable channel of communication with your doctor about your breast health. Discuss your individual risk factors, any breast related concerns you have, and any fears you may have about your health, the screenings themselves, and if needed, treatment options.
When it comes to preventing, detecting, and treating breast cancer, thoughtful, calm, deliberate action is the best path to follow.
Be aware of significant symptoms:
The American Cancer Society urges all women to be vigilant about any changes in their breasts, such as dimpling, changes in color, unusual swelling, pain, discharge, or lumps, and they urge women to see a doctor right away about any changes. Even if a given situation is not breast cancer, a doctor often can help with other breast related issues, such as hormone imbalances, breast infections, fibroids, or even pinched nerves which can cause breast pain and swelling.
American Cancer Society’s breast cancer prevention tips:
Of course, the very best scenario is to avoid ever developing breast cancer. With all the causes of breast cancer still unclear, the best we can do for now is to reduce known risk factors associated with breast cancer occurrence. The American Cancer Society suggests the following steps:
- Maintain (or get to) a healthy weight – not too heavy or too thin. The body’s immune system functions best in an ideal weight range, not too low or too high. Likewise, the body’s endocrine (hormonal) system functions best in an ideal weight range. Because immune function and hormonal balance play a role in breast cancer, it is best to keep both systems in peak condition.
- Eat at least five servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
- Choose whole grains instead of refined grains and sugars.
- Limit consumption of processed and red meats.
- Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on five or more days per week. Lengths of exercise bouts in the 45 to 60 minute range are preferable for reducing the risk of colon or breast cancers.
- Limit how often meats are grilled or fried. High cooking temperatures can create chemicals that may increase cancer risk.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Risk of breast cancer increases with just a few drinks per week. Women at high risk for the disease may choose to avoid alcohol altogether.
Dietary supplements that may help with the battle against breast cancer:
There are several dietary supplements that show good evidence of helping to avoid breast cancer and/or to help the person fighting breast cancer to survive their condition more successfully.
The book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC has a fascinating, thorough, and well-written nine and one-half page section devoted to breast cancer prevention, screening, and nutritional support for women seeking to avoid breast cancer or treat it more effectively.
The following dietary supplement suggestions are recommended in Balch’s book, and these same supplements have been widely discussed and recommended in other media. Of course, as always, check with your personal physician before taking supplements, especially if you are presently under treatment for breast cancer or take prescription drugs for any ailment.
Below is a brief listing of each supplement and its benefits:
- CoQ10 – This substance improves cellular oxygenation and is available widely for improving heart health. Increasing evidence supports the theory that coenzyme Q10 reduces the risk of breast cancer.
- Colostrum – Boosts the immune system to protect against infections and is known to promote accelerated healing.
- Garlic – It has been used for ages to maintain wellness and has been scientifically shown to enhance immune function.
- Melatonin – This substance is known to block estrogen-receptor sites on breast cancer cells; if you’ve ever suffered from seizures, talk to your doctor before using this product.
- Multivitamin and Multi-mineral – Overall nutritional balance is needed to keep cells functioning properly. Multis can help fill in dietary nutritional gaps and help stressed human bodies cope better with disease and treatment.
- Vitamin E – Deficiency has been linked to breast cancer. Vitamin E also helps with hormone production and immune function.
- Vitamin C – This vitamin has a long history of improving immune response to any invaders, including cancer cells.
- Natural carotenoid complex – The carotenoid complex works as a powerful antioxidant that destroys free radicals, thereby protecting cells from damage.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – They improve any inflammatory problems and lower cancer risk.
- Curcumin – Is another powerful anti-inflammatory agent and immune enhancer.
- Rosemary extract – It is an excellent anti-oxidant that helps remove estrogens from the body; and therefore, may help inhibit breast cancer development.
There is much we can do to avoid getting breast cancer and much we can do to survive it if we should be so unfortunate as to acquire the dreaded disease, but we must be proactive – with screening, with lifestyle, and with determination to succeed in our own personal health journey.