Author: Asma Latif, MD
Medical Oncologist and Hematologist, Sturdy Memorial Associates
Director of Breast Oncology, Sturdy Memorial Hospital
For many, the month of October signifies change from the green leaves of summer into the dazzling colors of autumn. As the weather turns cool, students settle into the rhythm of school, trading in tee shirts and shorts for cozy sweaters and jackets.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have an opportunity to make changes within ourselves as well, and there isn’t a better time to finally focus on our own health and wellness.
This year, there will be almost 340,000 breast cancer cases estimated to be diagnosed in women, and 2,700 cases in men. While these are big numbers, the advent of breast cancer screening with mammography has aided in early detection. The earlier breast cancers are identified, the easier they are to treat.
Awareness of one’s breast health is more than an occasional self-exam or a pink ribbon. It’s a commitment to embrace habits which can improve not only the way we feel but can also help prevent serious illness.
Simple changes go a long way. Exercising at least 150 minutes a week, which you can get with a brisk daily walk, can reduce our risk of developing various cancers. When we exercise, we’re more likely to want to eat well. Reducing the fat in our diet, especially fats which come from animals, is another way to lower the risk of breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge for many of us, but it’s important to develop a plan with your healthcare provider to work toward that goal. Little by little, healthy habits can get you there and you’ll not only enjoy a lower risk of breast cancer but of other medical problems as well.
It’s also been shown that the more alcohol someone drinks, the higher their risk of developing breast cancer, so try to limit yourself to two or fewer drinks per week to keep your risk low. And when it comes to smoking, avoiding it is best. If you already smoke, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider to develop a plan to quit. Plans don’t always go as anticipated, so if it doesn’t work the first time around, regroup and try again!
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can go a long way to reducing your risk of breast cancer but remember that early detection is key as well. All women should be talking to their providers to determine if they are at average risk or at increased risk for developing breast cancer. Based on that, your provider will recommend when you should start screening mammograms, how often they should be done, and if there’s any role for additional types of imaging such as ultrasounds or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Additionally, any changes in your breast, whether it be a new pain or lump, or skin or nipple changes, should be brought to your provider’s attention immediately.
Change can be a challenge, but it can also be very rewarding. Take this time to focus on the changes you can make to empower yourself and finally take control of your health and wellness. You deserve it!
(Dr. Asma Latif is a Medical Oncologist and Hematologist with Sturdy Memorial Associates, and the Director of Breast Oncology at Sturdy Memorial Hospital.)