Breast Health

Women's Breast Health and Breast Care Tips Image

Breast health starts with you. The better educated you are about women’s breast health, the easier it will be to detect signs of breast cancer in its early stages. In general, the same things that promote overall health are good for breast health, too–eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting regular exercise and avoiding tobacco, caffeine and excessive alcohol.

Breast Health and Development

A woman’s breasts change shape, size and texture throughout the course of her life. Some women experience breast pain and tenderness during menstruation. Breast consistency may also change during menstrual cycles, giving the breasts a “lumpy” feeling.

This isn’t a cause for concern; the milk glands are simply enlarging in case of pregnancy. If no fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus, the breasts will return to normal. The normal breast cycle causes other physical breast changes during pregnancy and menopause.

Breast Pain

Breast pain occurs for a number of reasons, but breast cancer isn’t usually one of them. Breast pain is classified as either cyclical (recurring with the fluctuation of hormones) or non-cyclical (not following hormonal patterns). Breast pain may be the result of a breast disease, such as mastitis, or another medical condition, such as chest wall pain.

Breast pain is also a side effect of certain medications. If you experience non-cyclical breast pain, see your doctor to determine the cause of this pain. Early detection is vital to good breast health.

Women’s Breast Health: Self-exams and Mammograms

Conducting regular breast self-exams is the best way to become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. This way, if an abnormal lump develops, you’ll be able to recognize it and get immediate treatment.

Perform a breast self exam (BSE) at the same time each month–ideally two or three days after the first day of menstrual flow. This method may not allow you to detect tiny lumps, however, so the American Cancer Society (2010) recommends that women over the age of 40 get yearly mammograms to help detect early signs of breast cancer. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast.

Lifestyle Factors that Contribute to Breast Health

While you can’t change certain breast cancer risk factors, such as your age, genetic makeup, family history and breast tissue type, you may be able to reduce your risk of breast cancer by:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet. Overweight women are at a greater risk for breast cancer, particularly postmenopausal women.
  • Exercising regularly. Exercise can reduce your risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (2010) recommends 45 to 60 minutes of physical activity five or more days per week.
  • Reducing alcohol consumption. Studies have linked excessive alcohol consumption to increased risk of breast cancer.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Breast cancer: Early detection. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003165-pdf.pdf

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Breast cancer. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/breast-cancer/DS00328

Ohio State University Medical Center. (n.d.) Normal breast development. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/breast_health/ normal_breast_development/pages/index.aspx