October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (almost everything suddenly turns pink on October 1st), but the condition poses a very serious threat year round. One of the strangest myths surrounding breast cancer is that it only affects women. Millions of men have been diagnosed with it.
A second myth about breast cancer is that antiperspirants or certain types of bras cause the disease. There is no evidence that either contribute to it. The first thing you need to do in order to protect against breast cancer is understand what it is and exactly what can cause it. Beyond that, here are some tips to protect against breast cancer, or catch it in its early stages when it is most vulnerable.
Get Checked Frequently
Self-exams are no longer officially recommended by the medical community, but you should perform them anyways. At best, you’ll catch a suspicious lump early, and at worst you’ll keep the condition on your mind and be vigilant in the process.
Get to know your own breasts, and you’ll be better equipped to notice a change if it occurs. Some of the most aggressive tumors are the ones that pop up between screenings and advance to an extremely troublesome stage in less than a year.
Aside from checking yourself on a semi-weekly basis, you should also be getting a mammogram once a year. As it turns out, the radiation from a mammogram is minimal and even less than previously thought. New mammogram technology even provides 25% less radiation. For men, chances are you can notice a lump well enough on your own (though your level of preventive care is up to you).
Proper Diet and Fitness
If you drink, try to cut back. Research has shown that individuals who consume alcohol frequently (or three times a week) have a 20% higher risk for breast cancer. A drink a day may be good for your heart, but it is very bad for your breasts. Smoking will also increase your risk. Women who had smoked for over a decade were up to 20% more likely to have breast cancer.
Recent studies have also shown that breast cancer is more influenced by what you weigh than what you eat. Body fat simply leads your body to store more estrogen, and the more you have, the higher your risk for postmenopausal breast cancer or a recurrence of the condition.
Shedding some pounds will help reduce your risk significantly. Even better, getting as little as thirty minutes of exercise five days a week will cut your risk by 20%. When you lose weight in the process, that effect is compounded. If you are at a higher than average risk for breast cancer, there is no reason you should not be exercising.
If you are at high risk for breast cancer, there is preventive medication that will cut your risk in as much as half. Unfortunately, most women do not pursue this medication because they are not aware that they’re good candidates. Simply approach your doctor and ask him or her to evaluate your risk level. If it is unusually high, the medication may be right for you.
Family History is Not a Large Contributor
While it may increase your risk level somewhat, family history is not always worth worrying about. If your mother had breast cancer late in life, for example, you risk level may only be a few percentage points higher than average.
More than nine out of every ten women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. This means that regardless of who had it in your family, you should be getting checked on a regular basis.