This month, you'll see pink ribbons and products just about everywhere promoting Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sometimes it seems as though everywhere we turn, we hear about someone else being diagnosed with breast cancer.
This disease is unfortunately common—one out of eight women will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime, and it can be devastating when it happens to someone close to us, but early detection and being aware of your health can be instrumental in detecting it early.
It is so important that, as women, we work together to learn and support each other with our health. Here are 10 facts about your breast health that every woman should be aware of:
1. You are probably not wearing the right bra size
Don't worry, most of us aren't. It is estimated that eight out of 10 women are wearing incorrect bras sizes! In addition to being uncomfortable, this can hurt your back and shoulders, and if you are breastfeeding, can increase your risk of clogged ducts.
Lingerie stores and many department stores have bra fit specialists to help you. Use breast cancer awareness month as motivation to invest in one or two good bras (you only have to wash them about every three to four washes)—it may make a world of difference.
2. You can learn about your risk factor from your genes
There are two important genes (DNA code) that can impact your risk for breast cancer: BRCA1 and BRCA2 (commonly called "brack-a.") Everyone has them and their job is to suppress cancer cells. But, 0.25% of women have a mutation in these genes, which means they are not as good at fighting cancer.
Women with these mutations have a higher risk of breast cancer: 55-65% chance for BRCA1 and 45% for BRCA2.
So, should you get tested for a BRCA mutation? That is not an easy decision, but your doctor can help you make it. Things to consider include your family history of breast cancer and what you would do with that new information.
3. Babies and age may make a difference, too
If you first got your period younger than age 12, gave birth to your first baby after age 30, or have never given birth, the chances for breast cancer are a little higher. You certainly don't have to be stressed about that risk, just be sure to check your breasts monthly and talk to your doctor about prevention and routine screening.
4. It's possible to reduce your risk of breast cancer
For women with a high risk of breast cancer, research has found that there are some lifestyle changes you can make that may reduce the chances. These include:
- Quit smoking
- Drink less alcohol (less than one drink per day)
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid high doses of radiation when possible
- Limit hormone therapy when possible
5. Birth control may increase your risk... but only a little
A 2017 study found that women who used hormonal birth control, like the pill or the hormonal IUD, had a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer—but it's very slight: One new breast cancer case per every 7,690.
If you are concerned, you can chat with your doctor or midwife about a non-hormonal method of contraception, like condoms, the copper IUD, vasectomies or tubal ligation, and natural family planning.
6. You should check your breasts at least once a month
The best time to do a breast exam is a few days after your period ends. If you are pregnant or nursing and don't have a period, just check on the same day of the month each month. Here's how to do it:
- Look at your breasts in the mirror, first with your hands on your hips and then with your hand up in the air.
- Feel your breasts while you are standing. This is easiest to do in the shower when they are a bit slippery. How you feeling them is up to you, just make sure you cover the whole breast (including the breast tissue that's in your armpit). Many women like to start at the nipple and move outward in concentric circles until they have covered the whole breast.
- Lay down and feel your breasts. Lay on your back, and place one hand behind your head. Use the other hand to check the breast in the same way as above.
7. Every breast is different—like these
Keep this in mind:
- Breasts on the same body can be different sizes
- You may have small hairs on your breast
- Breast tissue can hurt around the time of your period
8. But some findings warrant further investigation
Talk to your doctor if:
- You find or notice a lump or bump
- You see swelling anywhere near your breast, armpit or collarbone
- There are changes to the skin around your nipple
- You notice warmth or itching
- Or notice pus, blood or other liquid leaking from your nipple (other than breastmilk)
9. There is a mammogram plan, but yours might differ
The American Cancer Society recommends the following timeline for mammograms:
- Women between age 40 and 44 can start to have mammograms if they choose to
- Between the ages of 45 and 54, women should have a mammogram every year
- At 55 and older, women can continue yearly mammograms or switch to every other year, as long as she is in good health
Your doctor may also recommend a mammogram if you have an unusual finding or a risk factor.
10. The survival rate for breast cancer is improving 💪
Nearly 90% of women with breast cancer will survive. Early detection and treatment really do matter so never hesitate to reach out to your provider if you have a concern.