Breasts–and let’s be honest, the human body in general–are a complicated thing. As if the the societal pressure to have “normal” or “attractive” breasts isn’t enough pressure, we are additionally surrounded by the looming statistic that 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.
When it comes to breast health, seemingly “normal” breasts might not be normal at all. Even the most symmetrical, perkiest, or smallest breasts could have underlying issues. With no guarantees, what can you do to make your breast health a priority?
The 2020 Ultimate Guide to Breast Health for Life
No matter your age, if you’re a woman reading this, you’ve likely considered your breast health. Either because you’ve had a scare of some sort or hope to avoid one, endured a diagnosis you hoped you’d never face, or you’ve known, loved, or lost someone to cancer. Being aware of your breast health is important–not only when it comes to preventing or screening for cancer, but in the day-to-day routine of taking care of yourself. Your breast health matters, and knowing some information on keeping breasts healthy is important, not only when or if concerns arise, but prior to any concerns arising, too.
My Breasts seem Unusual… Is this Normal?
Many concerns women have regarding their breasts are not unusual, and are often completely normal. Some of these concerns include:
- Breasts that are slightly different sizes.
- One breast hanging slightly lower than the other.
- Hair present around the nipples.
- Breast tenderness present before/during your period.
When pregnant or breastfeeding there are additional changes that occur in the breasts. Typically these are also normal and can include:
- Larger, more tender breasts.
- Darkened nipples and more visible blood vessels in the breasts.
- Lumpier breast tissue.
- Formation or growth of cysts (fluid filled sacs that will feel like lumps in the breast. You should definitely be examined if you find a lump in the breast. The vast majority of lumps found in pregnancy are not concerning, but should be checked out).
- Swelling and filling with milk after birth.
- Sore or cracked nipples or plugged milk ducts, if you are breastfeeding.
As women age, there are physical changes that occur in the breasts that can be normal. These could include:
- Shrinkage of milk glands, resulting in more fat tissue and possibly an increase in bra cup size.
- Breasts may begin to sag more.
How Can I Tell When a Breast Abnormality is a Warning Sign?
Pregnant or not, younger or older, if you observe any unusual changes, tell your doctor. There may be nothing wrong, but it is important to be checked out if you notice any concerning changes. These changes could include:
- A lump you’ve never felt before.
- Swelling around your breast, armpit or collarbone.
- Skin changes near the nipple–dry/cracked/red or thickened (similar to an orange peel).
- Warmth or itching in your breasts.
Many times, changes observed in the breasts are due to benign conditions. in fact, four out of five lumps in the breast are benign. However, even benign conditions still affect the woman experiencing the changes/symptoms in some way, be it physical pain or emotional concerns, worry, and anxiety.
Breast Health and Overall Health Go Hand-in-Hand
Being aware of your body and your “normal” is important. There are often things you can do to alleviate or eliminate symptoms, so knowing what you are dealing with can be helpful. Many of these things can become habits and over time will help contribute to not only healthy breasts, but a healthy body for life. It is never too late to consider making changes for the better.
Here are some helpful habits to consider:
Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is important to your overall health as excess weight can increase estrogen production. Increased estrogen levels can contribute to various diseases, including some breast and reproductive cancers. Aim for 150 minutes (or more) a week of moderate intensity exercise (cardio, hiking, bike riding) or 75 minutes a week or high intensity exercise.
Increase your fruit and veggie intake
Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, which are great for fighting free radicals (which are linked to a host of diseases) in the body. Berries and red skinned grapes are excellent sources of antioxidants, as is dark chocolate (though that’s not technically a fruit or vegetable). The USDA advises that you fill half your plate with produce.
Additionally, a square of dark chocolate here or there is a good source of antioxidants and a nice little treat.
Reduce your alcohol intake
Keep your alcohol consumption to one serving a day or less–12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor. Women consuming more than 3 drinks a day were found to have significantly higher (1.5x) risk levels for developing breast cancer than non-drinkers.
Get plenty of rest
Seven to eight hours of sleep at night is ideal. Staying up late can suppress melatonin levels, which may be problematic because melatonin may help regulate estrogen levels. Keeping estrogen levels balanced is important for healthy hormone function and overall health of breasts and reproductive organs.
Get in enough folate
400 micrograms of folate a day is recommended. Folate can be found in spinach, black eyed peas, and some grains. Not consuming enough folate is linked with impaired ability to repair DNA, which is essential to the body’s ability to fight disease.
Some research suggests psychological factors may be linked to increased risk for certain diseases. This is possibly because stress often turns people to alcohol or overeating, which both increase the risk for disease. It is also possible that the effects stress has on a body contributes to an increase of inflammation in the body and a dysfunction of the immune system.
You can calm your stress in a variety of ways, but some suggestions include taking deep belly breaths, enjoying a good laugh, and repeating an uplifting saying/mantra. All of these reduce the brain’s stress response and illicit a greater sense of calm.
Know your body
Being familiar with what your breasts look like and feel like is imperative in helping recognize when/if something is suddenly different. If you develop a new mole or notice changes in an existing mole, you are going to keep an eye on it and have it checked out, right? The same should be true of your breasts.
With your breasts, the easiest way to be familiar with what is normal for you is to use a self breast exam to determine how your breasts usually look and feel. This will help you to spot any changes so you can report them to your doctor. For most women, the best time to do a self exam of the breasts is after a period. Before or during a period, the breasts are often tender or swollen, making that a less optimal time for exam.
If you know what is normal for you and notice some changes, let your doctor know.
Thermography can help develop a baseline image (what is “normal” for you) of your breast/body health, and routine thermal scans can help monitor if there are any deviations from that baseline image over time. Thermography is completely safe, can be added into your health routine at any age, and works in conjunction with other health screenings like mammograms and ultrasounds.
The Best Way to Have Breast Health for Life
When it comes to breast health, the best preventative action is to know your body. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and have a doctor examine any abnormalities if you feel concerned or anxious. Take care of yourself–it’s never too late to add in positive routines and improve your health!
In addition to your regularly scheduled mammograms–or if you are younger than the recommended mammography age–Insight Thermography of Oklahoma can provide a safe, complementary form of health scan imaging to dive deeper into your breast health. For more information, or to schedule a breast study, visit us online at insightthermographyok.com or call us at 405-306-6340.