Conscious of the cure: breast cancer awareness

By Beth Doxsee
Peer Health Outreach Coordinator

Along with fall weather and midterms, October brought breast cancer into the forefront of peoples’ minds thanks to pink ribbon campaigns and events like Run for the Cure. To give you an idea of the scope of this disease, in 2010 over 23,300 women and 180 men in Canada were diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that approximately one in 9 women will be affected by it. Although the survival rate has increased significantly from 1980, there is still no known cause or cure. Over 5,300 women and 50 men died as a result of their diagnosis in 2010.

Because the majority of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women aged 50-70 years, most people in their twenties think that it’s something they need not worry about until much later in life. But what you do now can have a big impact on your breast health later in life. While there is no known cause of breast cancer, there are definitely things that put you at an increased risk. Even though you’re unable to change some risk factors (i.e., your gender, age and genetics), there are a lot of risk factors that you can change.

So, here are some of the modifiable risk factors:

• Body weight - Try to stay in the normal weight category for you height.

• Physical activity – Aim to get 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

• Diet – Go for lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and avoid eating too many foods high in sugar and fat.

• Alcohol use – Have one drink or less a day. Increased alcohol use correlates to increased risk, regardless of whether you’re drinking spirits, beer or wine.

• Tobacco smoke – Avoid both first- and second-hand smoke especially during your adolescence when your breasts are developing.

Another thing you can start doing in your 20s is get to know your breasts on an intimate level. Here’s how you become breast aware through four simple steps:

1. Know how each of your breasts normally look (i.e., size, shape, colour)

2. Know what changes to look for:

• Unusual, or persistent pain in your breast(s) or armpit

• Swelling under your armpit or collarbone

• Nipple changes – shape, position, discharge or being pulled inward

• Redness, rash or other skin irritation

• Lumps, thickening, dimples or puckering

3. Feel each whole breast, above and below plus under each arm.
NOTE: there is no right or wrong way to do this. You can move your middle fingers in small circles around those areas or any other way that feels comfortable to you.

4. Report any changes to your health care provider.

Even though breast cancer tends to be a disease that affects older women, it can still be diagnosed in younger women. For example, in 2008 actress Christina Applegate was diagnosed at the age of 36 and underwent a double mastectomy. On Oct. 19, 37 year-old E! News correspondent Guiliana Rancic underwent a double lumpectomy to treat the early stages of breast cancer.

So, take control of the risk factors you can change and become breast aware! For more information visit: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

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