Breast Health 101

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Good breast health is vital to our body image, pleasure and overall health. Breasts grow up with us, become erogenous zones, and for some, they become the way your baby gets its magical milk nourishment. However, with breast cancer being the second most common cancer diagnosis in the US, it is important to be able to do self-exams and advocate for yourself when you detect something may be wrong.

Here are a few best practices to help you increase your breast awareness so you can enjoy and care for them.

 

Healthy breast self-care

Breast massages

Many cultures including Ayurveda and Taoism promote breast massage as a way to stimulate blood flow, increase lymphatic system drainage of toxins and promote healthy hormonal balance of estrogen [1]. Use a breast oil and massage the entire breast area through the armpit region for at least 5 minutes for some much-needed breast love.

Go braless

Some studies suggest that wire bras, especially when worn for 12 hours a day or more, may cause lymphatic restriction in the breasts which results in a build-up of toxins and increased risk of breast cancer [2]. Go braless at night and wear wireless options, when possible.

Focus on your overall health

This may sound cliché, but making sure your overall health is good will also positively impact your breast health and reduce your chances of developing breast cancer. Get regular exercise, avoid tobacco, limit alcohol and eliminate toxins around you as much as possible [3]. Take a close look at the chemicals in your everyday foods, household products and intimate care items. Is there something you can swap out to make a healthier switch?

Use toxic-free moisturizers

Most products on the market advertised for vulva or breast skin contain toxic chemicals including synthetic fragrances, harmful preservatives and lots of ingredients you DO NOT want absorbed into your bloodstream. Keep your breast skin hydrated with products you trust that are made with clean ingredients.

Breastfeed

People who breastfeed their children are less likely to develop breast cancer [4]. Not only is a great way to bond with baby, but it’s healthy for you too!


Self exams

Clinicians no longer recommend monthly exams, but instead consistent exams to ensure you can detect any abnormal lumps or changes. The best time to do a self-exam is in the shower when your skin is smooth because it makes it easier to feel breast tissue. The goal of a self-exam is to learn what your breast tissue feels like so that you can identify any changes early. Make sure you touch the entire breast region, upper outer quadrant of the breast and up through the armpit area.

 

Breast cancer screening

Women and trans men should schedule regular breast exams and mammograms (x-ray of the breasts) with their clinicians. Planned parenthood recommends having your breast examined by your doctor or nurse every 1-2 years from the age of 21-39, then every year from age 40 on. Starting at the age of 40, it’s ideal to start having mammograms every 1-2 years [5].

Of course, if you notice unusual changes during self-exams, if you are at higher risk of breast cancer (due to family genetics) or are a breast cancer survivor, your visits may be more frequent and should plan a care plan with your doctor. Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer, genetic counseling options if you need them and the best screening plan for you.

 

Breast cancer

According to the American Cancer Society in 2018 there will be about 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed and about 40,920 deaths from breast cancer among women [6]. This means it is the second most common cancer diagnosis and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

However, it’s important to note that women, men, intersex and transgender people can also get breast cancer. This is why regular self-exams and knowing your body will allow you notice when there are any unusual changes you should discuss with your clinician [7].

 

Risk factors

Some of the currently known factors that can raise your risk [8]:

  • Being a Woman and Getting Older -  About two-thirds of all invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women over age 55. The average woman’s risk over the next decade is much lower. If you are now age 40, for example, you have only a 1 in 68 chance of being diagnosed in the next ten years. At age 50, 1 in 42; at age 60, 1 in 28; and at age 70, 1 in 26.
  • Genetics - Women who inherited a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation have a much higher than average lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, ranging from 45 percent to as high as 80 percent.
  • Family History - Having one first-degree relative (a mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer about doubles your risk.
  • Personal History -If you have been diagnosed with cancer in one breast, you have a higher-than-average risk of developing a new cancer in either breast. You are also at higher risk if you have dense breasts or had radiation to the chest as a child or young adult.
  • Hormonal History - You are at higher risk if you started menstruating early (before age 12) or went through menopause later than most (after age 55).
  • Childbearing History -Having had no children or a first child after age 30 increases your risk.


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[1] Chia, M. & Abrams, R. (2005) The Multi-Orgasmic Woman.

[2] Grismaijer, S., & Singer, S.R. (1995), Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras.

[3] Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. Breast Health Patient Handout, Jan 2017.

[4] PP Handout, Jan 2017.

[5] PP Handout, Jan 2017.

[6] https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html

[7] Queen, C. & Rednour, S. (2015) Sex & Pleasure Book.   

[8] https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/womens-health/breast-health-101




 

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