October is breast cancer awareness month so this is a great time of year to think about how to keep your breasts healthy! Here are a few tips to help you.
1) Check Yourself
A breast self-exam is something that every woman should know how to do. Here’s a fun video that explains how to check in with your girls, with a very positive mental attitude. As you practice, think of it not as searching for the big “C” word, but rather with the idea of “I’m getting to know my own body”. Just as you might watch a mole on your arm, it’s good to know your breasts well, so you would be able to tell if there were any changes.
Many women have a lot of density or texture in different areas of their breasts, and this is usually completely normal. By doing a self-exam every month (at the end of your period) you get to know what’s normal for you. And if you find anything that doesn’t feel like “you” or doesn’t go away with your cycle, then you know to go check in with your doctor about it.
The Keep A Breast foundation released a great free app to help keep you on track. Search the app store for “Check Yourself!” and download it now.
2) Get Imaging (probably)
No matter how great you are with your self-exams every month, or your doctor is with your clinical breast exam each year, there are some abnormal changes that you just can’t feel. It is typically recommended to get some sort of imaging to help you be more knowledgeable about what is going on inside your breast tissue.
The standard medical recommendation is to get mammograms, though there have been many arguments raised about their relative harm to benefit. I also have patients who choose to get thermograms, though there is a lot of concern about their efficacy. Neither is perfect and both have their pros and cons. Here is a blog article by Tori Hudson that sheds some light on this controversial topic: http://drtorihudson.com/cancer-prevention/screening-mammography-controversies-whats-a-woman-to-do/
3) Be Proactive
There are many lifestyle practices that can help you to keep your breasts healthy now and into the future. Maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, spending time outdoors (vitamin D!), using safe cleaning products, avoiding plastics, choosing organic foods, eating a variety of colorful vegetables, sleeping in darkness (melatonin!), not smoking and reducing alcohol intake to less than one drink per day are all significant ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer. You can also minimize or avoid caffeine in order to reduce the fibrocystic changes that can make breasts lumpy and tender. Fibrocystic breasts do not have a higher risk of cancer, but they can be uncomfortable and make self-exams more difficult.
If you use estrogen as hormone replacement, do not use synthetic progestin along with it. The bioidentical (more natural) form, called progesterone, is safer. Hormones are a complicated topic so ask your doctor if you have questions, but the biggest concern regarding breast cancer, from the biggest studies, is the synthetic progestins (not the estrogen).
Eat your crucifers! We know that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, cabbage and brussels sprouts contain two important nutrients that help us to safely metabolize our estrogens. DIM and Calcium-d-glucarate can also be taken as supplements, or are most concentrated in the sprouts of these vegetables.
Seaweeds are a great source of iodine, which can help with breast health as well as thyroid health. The key here is to ensure that you are not deficient, but not to take in too much. I do not recommend mega-doses of iodine.
Other general cancer preventive nutrients/foods are good to include: green tea, raw ground flax seeds (2-4 Tablespoons per day), turmeric, resveratrol, immune supporting mushrooms (maitake, reishi), etc.
There are many things that we can be doing to help ourselves stay healthy… in our breasts and in our whole bodies. Please feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments!