Feel ‘em up, for health
by Wendy C. Smith
Whether we’re proud of them or a little self-conscious of them, all women have breasts. It’s funny that after so many years of evolution and fighting for equal rights, a woman’s breasts can still stop a conversation and cause the brains of normally intelligent men to turn to mush.
Unfortunately, what is often considered an asset is also a liability. Most of us know at least one woman who has conquered breast cancer or died from it. In the 1960s, one in 20 women between the ages of 35 and 54 developed breast cancer. The figure is now one in eight, and 25 percent of those who get it will die. Breast cancer is currently the No. 1 cause of death for women in that age bracket.
The cancer cells continue to multiply, re-route blood supplies and use the body’s nutritional resources. Cancer cells lack apoptosis, which is the pre-programmed cell death schedule that normal cells follow, so they have even another advantage.
The earlier breast cancer can be caught, the better. All women should be familiar with their breasts and cognizant to any changes in their shape or feel. Breast cancer has several symptoms. Any of these should be a reason to visit a doctor. Nipple tenderness or discharge or nipples turning inward are suspicious, as are lumps or thickness in or near the breast and under the arm. Other signs to watch for are red or scaly patches of skin on the nipple, areola or breast or swollen areas with ridges or dimpling (think
Breast self-exams help women become familiar with their breasts and are surprisingly helpful in early detection of lumps and changes in the breast tissue. Yearly mammograms are strongly suggested for women over 40. (The denser breast tissue of women under 40 makes irregularities harder to detect.) Mammograms, though effective, can give false positive and false negative readings. Additionally, there is some thought that exposure to radiation can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Either way, the causes of breast cancer are, like many other cancers, partly due to genetics and partly due to environmental and lifestyle factors. Women with a family history of breast cancer are considered at a higher risk of breast cancer, but there are other factors are well. Xenoestrogens are at the top of the list. Xenoestrogens are chemical compounds that the body reads as estrogen. They are common in industrialized nations and we are
Another risk factor is synthetic estrogen found in hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills. Other risk agents are certain anti-depressants, statin drugs and poor diet (high consumption of hormone treated meats, animal fats, processed foods and alcohol).
We can’t alleviate all the risk factors, but perhaps we can lower them. Do monthly breast self-exams. Research xenoestrogens and dodge them as much as possible. Avoid hormone replacement therapy, if possible. Consider an alternative to birth control pills, such as the IUD, which has no synthetic estrogen and a higher success rate in preventing pregnancy. Eat a high fiber diet as fiber helps pull excess estrogen out of the body. Eat organic foods, especially dairy and meat. Take flax seed oil. It contains lignans, which have been shown to (help) prevent breast cancer.
I have had four friends with breast cancer. I lost one of them two months ago. For most people, breast cancer has a chilling familiarity. The risk factors don’t go away. It’s up to every woman to take the necessary steps to reduce risk and keep her breasts healthy. Don’t be a boob. Protect your breasts.