Women’s breasts serve numerous important roles throughout their lives, from delivering nourishment to their infants to providing sexual pleasure and giving women unique physical form. Therefore it is critical for all females to understand how to support healthy breasts.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation stresses that the recipe for breast health “means being breast aware,” which includes knowing the risk factors for breast cancer and understanding your own personal risk, taking active steps to reduce your risk of breast cancer, and knowing when you should be screened for cancer. It also means you should know what is and is not normal when it comes to your breasts.
For example, it is not uncommon for one breast to be slightly larger than the other, for one breast to hang lower than the other, for hair to grow near the nipple, or for your breasts to be tender around menstruation.
On the other hand, certain factors should be brought to the attention of your doctor, such as discovering a firm lump that is new, swelling around the breast or armpit, thickened or dry/cracked skin around the nipple, itching or warmth in your breasts, or leakage of fluid or blood from your nipples. These signs do not necessarily indicate something is seriously wrong, but they should be evaluated.
One of the more common concerns about breast health is the risk of breast cancer, which affects about one in every eight women during their lifetime. In addition, there are other factors and issues that can have a negative impact on a woman’s breasts. Fortunately, women can make a number of lifestyle choices and decisions to help promote and maintain breast health. Here are 9 of them.
Exercise. High levels of estrogen have been associated with the development of certain cancers, including breast cancer. Exercise is one way to reduce the size of fat cells, which are manufacturing centres for estrogen. Once you shrink your fat cells, your body releases less estrogen and your risk of breast cancer may drop as well.
Pig out on produce. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. A recent study appearing in Nutrients reported an “inverse correlation between the intake of vegetables and fruits and the incidence of breast cancer.” Some of the foods that could impact the development and progression of breast cancer include citrus, apple, grapes, mango, cruciferous vegetables, garlic, ginger, and pomegranates.
Cultivate calm. Research suggests that reducing the stress in your life can lower your risk of developing cancers. One reason for this phenomenon is that people under stress tend to adopt unhealthy habits, such as drinking, smoking, poor eating habits, and avoidance of exercise. Cultivating more calm in your life (e.g., meditation, deep breathing, visualization, enjoying humour) can facilitate better overall health, including a lower risk of cancer.
Enjoy chocolate. This is probably the favourite tip of all. Dark chocolate contains a compound which, when it interacts with an enzyme, can kill cancerous cells while leaving normal cells alone. Moderation is key, however, and be sure to choose dark over milk chocolate.
Seek screening. Some women shun breast cancer screening because they are afraid if a lump is found, it will be cancerous. The truth is that 80 percent of lumps felt in the breast are associated with hormone fluctuations and are benign (e.g., cyst or fluid-filled sac), according to Alonzo P. Walker, MD, director of the Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin Breast Care Center in Milwaukee. Perform a breast self-exam once a month (first day of each month while bathing or showering is a good way to remember) and talk to your doctor about the best breast examination and mammogram schedule for you based on your history, age, and lifestyle.
Limit alcohol. According to BreastCancer.org, research suggests that women who drink three alcoholic beverages per week have a 15 percent greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who don’t drink at all. It’s estimated that the risk of breast cancer rises another 10 percent for each additional drink women consume regularly each day. If you are going to drink, moderation is the key; average less than one drink per day.
Get your Zzzzzzz. If you are a night owl, you may want to make some modifications. Staying up late exposes you to more light at night, which in turn suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that has a role in regulating estrogen. Adjust your schedule so you get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Written by Deborah Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell is passionate about personal health and the well-being of animals and the planet. She has authored, coauthored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, contributes regularly to several websites, and shares information on physical, emotional, and spiritual health on her blog, deborahmitchellbooks.com.
BreastCancer.org. Drinking alcohol. Accessed September 18, 2017.
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. About breast cancer. Accessed September 17, 2017.
Keshet-Sitton A et al. Can avoiding light at night reduce the risk of breast cancer? Integrative Cancer Therapies 2016 Jun; 15(2): 145-52
Li Y et al. Dietary natural products for prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Nutrients 2017 Jul 8; 9(7). Accessed September 16, 2017.
Macmillan A. How to have healthy breasts for life. WebMD. Accessed September 16, 2017.
Self. 12 tips for good breast health. 2013 October 16. Accessed September 16, 2017.