10 Habits to Cultivate for Breast Health
Over the last 15 years, Dr. Movassaghi and our staff have helped hundreds of breast cancer survivors restore their bodies through breast reconstruction. Our team also works to raise funds for breast cancer research, participating in events such as Eugene’s yearly Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
We also believe in raising awareness and helping people understand what they can do to help prevent the disease—so in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve put together this list of breast health tips. Making these healthy habits a part of your lifestyle can do more than help reduce your risk for breast cancer and disease: positive side effects may include a boost in energy, a fitter and leaner body, and a more youthful radiance.
Incorporating these 10 breast health habits into your lifestyle will not only help reduce your risk for breast cancer—you’re also likely to notice a positive difference in how you look and feel.
1. Do your monthly breast self exam
Although the American Cancer Society no longer considers breast self examinations (BSE) a primary breast cancer screening method, they remain the most accessible, effective way to help you get to know what is normal for your breasts, so you can more easily detect changes in the future. Moreover, since doctors rarely perform regular mammograms or other imaging tests on patients under 40, monthly BSEs are your best tool for detecting potential problems when you’re younger. Breastcancer.org provides thorough step-by-step instructions for how to examine your breasts.
2. Quit smoking (or better yet, never start)
The dangers of tobacco use are clear, but can never be overstated. Smoking not only causes lung cancer, but sharply increases risk for all types of cancer, as well as other deadly diseases such as emphysema and heart disease. The good news is that if you quit now, you’ll experience real health benefits within weeks—you’ll breathe easier, food will taste more flavorful, and your lung capacity will increase. The earlier you quit the better: patients who quit smoking before age 40 are thought to have a 90% reduced risk of dying from tobacco-related illness compared to those who continue smoking.
3. Eat a healthy, whole foods diet full of colorful fruits and veggies
A healthy diet is the foundation of a healthy body, helping to boost immunity, keep your weight in check, and lower your risk of a multitude of diseases, including breast cancer. Sugary and processed foods like cookies, chips, and fast food can lead to inflammation, so keep them to a bare minimum. Make antioxidant-rich leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and richly colored fruits, such as kale, tomatoes, blueberries, and broccoli, staples in your diet to help offset DNA damage, which can lead to abnormal cell growth.
4. Make exercise a priority
Not only does exercise release feel-good endorphins, help your bones and muscles stay strong, and help you look younger—it also can reduce breast cancer risk. The type of activity seems to matter less than the intensity and frequency: aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense exercise per day. If you have trouble staying motivated, try joining a sports club or enroll in a dance class. Having a group counting on you to join them will give you incentive to show up for your workout.
5. Don’t let stress get the best of you
Stress is a part of life, but left unchecked it can be hard on the body, leading to inflammation and sleep deprivation, which is suspected to increase cancer risk (not to mention add years to your appearance). Find healthy ways to deal with stress: take a yoga class, go for a long hike, have a bubble bath, or sign up for an art class.
6. Skip the extra glass of wine
There is solid evidence linking alcohol consumption to an increased risk for breast cancer. The added risk is very small for light drinkers (e.g., one drink per day), but increases significantly for those who consume 2 or more drinks per day. So while there’s probably little harm in enjoying a glass of wine with dinner now and then, try not to make it a daily habit.
7. Keep your weight in check as you age
The battle of the bulge gets tougher as we get older, but staying at a healthy weight will help keep your breast cancer risk as low as possible. Studies show the risk of developing cancer increases significantly in post-menopausal overweight patients. It’s not entirely clear whether obesity alone, or lifestyle factors that contribute to obesity, raise breast cancer risk after menopause; however, higher levels of estrogen are thought to be a factor. Excess estrogen is a known breast cancer contributor, and the more body fat a person has, the more estrogen (which accumulates in fat cells) she has circulating around her body. In addition, obese patients diagnosed with breast cancer have worse outcomes than normal weight patients.
8. Get routine mammograms as recommended by your doctor
While healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce your chances of getting breast cancer, nothing can completely eliminate the possibility. Some risk factors you cannot control, such as age, gender, and genetics. Routine screening is the best way to catch disease in its earliest stages, while it still treatable—survival rates for Stage 0 and 1 breast cancer are near 100%. Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends annual or bi-annual mammograms for women 45 and older, as well as for younger patients who are at higher risk (i.e., those with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes).
9. If you have silicone breast implants, know the guidelines for regular MRIs
With today’s durable implant shells, rupture risk is low, particularly in newer implants. However, ruptures do occur occasionally, and the risk grows higher the older an implant is. If you have saline implants, a rupture is usually obvious, but a silicone implant rupture is usually detected with MRI. The FDA currently recommends women with silicone implants get an MRI two years after surgery and every three years thereafter to monitor for rupture. While a rupture is rarely considered an emergency, it’s best to have the implant removed and replaced during a breast revision surgery.
10. If you notice any unusual changes, or something doesn’t seem right, tell your doctor.
Unfortunately, you’re never too young or healthy to get breast cancer. While breast cancer is very rare in patients in their teens or twenties, it can happen, and your risk increases with each passing decade. Regardless of your age, see your doctor if you notice any abnormal change in your breasts. It’s better to be safe and rule out disease than ignore a potential problem.
If you have breast implants, and you experience any pain, hardening or swelling in your breasts, see your doctor or plastic surgeon to rule out capsular contracture or any other complication after breast augmentation. While the vast majority of patients don’t experience serious problems with their implants, no medical device is totally risk-free, so it’s important to stay in touch with your plastic surgeon and report any concerns or unexpected changes to your breasts.
Stay in touch with your healthcare providers
If you have specific concerns about your breast health, your first stop should be your doctor or OBGYN, who is best equipped to diagnose and treat any issues. For more information about breast reconstruction or enhancement, we welcome you to give us a call. Dr. Movassaghi will be happy to discuss your questions and concerns at a personal consultation.