Are you breast self-aware?

13 years ago

    You see the breast cancer awareness ribbon everywhere you look these days. It is on everything from sports equipment to clothing to kitchen utensils. If there is an item out there, you can find it with the pink ribbon synonymous with breast cancer awareness.
    How often do you think about what this symbol actually represents? Breast cancer is not something that happens to someone else. It is something that can happen to any of us.
    There is a popular misconception that breast cancer is only an older woman’s disease, but it is not. It affects men and young women too. Because breast cancer is non-discriminatory it is imperative for all of us to be aware of the risk factors associated with breast cancer, as well as being aware of our own body and what is normal for us.
    You may ask: How can I reduce my risk of breast cancer? One way you can reduce your risk is by limiting alcohol consumption. Two to five drinks per day increases your risk of breast cancer by one and one-half times. Another risk reduction strategy is to quit smoking.
    Although smoking is not necessarily directly linked to breast cancer, it is linked to an increased risk of cancer in general. Controlling your weight by eating a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables and being physically active through regular exercise reduces your risk as much as 18 percent. Also, by having children before age 30 and choosing to breastfeed, you can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Finally, being straightforward with your health care provider about your family history of breast cancer increases the likelihood of early detection. (American Cancer Society; 2010)
    By taking control of your own health and performing a breast self-examination regularly starting today and, at age 40, by scheduling regular mammograms with your health care provider you can significantly increase the likelihood of early detection and subsequently increase your chance of surviving breast cancer.
    When performing a self-breast exam you should pay particular attention to the size, shape and texture of your breasts. You should take note of any changes including an evident change in the size or shape of your breasts, such as one breast becoming unusually larger or changes in the skin over the breast area such as a newly inverted nipple, dimpling of the skin, or breast lumps or thickening that feels different than the surrounding tissue.
    Other changes that you should be aware of include a change in texture of the skin such as peeling or flaking around the nipple area, or redness and/or pitting of the skin over the breast making the breast appear like the skin of an orange. The last change you should be aware of is discharge from the nipple area, especially if this discharge appears to contain blood (Susan G. Komen Foundation; 2010).
    If any of these changes occur do not just let it go thinking with time the symptoms will improve. You should be proactive and immediately contact your healthcare provider to schedule an appointment.
    For more information about breast health education or guest speaking services, contact Serena Butterfield at the ACAP Health Services office, (800) 432-7881.