October may almost be over, but the concern for breast health and breast cancer is a year round issue for all women. Mammograms, breast exams and awareness becomes larger than life this month, but my willingness to share this post goes deeper than an annual reminder. I am reminded that black women are dying in higher numbers than our white counterparts and those numbers are continually rising.
According to a 2015 report from the American Cancer Society, breast cancer rates among African-American women in the United States are increasing and,
Even though black women have historically had lower incidence rates than white women, death rates among black women have historically been higher, and that has continued. In fact, the black-white disparity in breast cancer death rates has increased over time; by 2012, death rates were 42% higher in black women than white women. American Cancer Society
Breast health is important so I wanted to share the expert insights from Dr. Steinbrech, a plastic surgeon board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery to share the importance of self-examinations and what we can do to lower our chances of breast cancer.
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Dr. Steinbrech shares:
Speaking as a plastic surgeon, it’s safe to say I’m quite familiar with breasts. While it’s important to have breasts that make you feel more confident and beautiful as a woman, it’s even more important to have healthy breasts. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we hope you place just as much importance on giving yourself regular year-round exams as you do on having gorgeous breasts!
According to Breastcancer.org, about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer within the course of their lives. A breast self-exam is a useful and essential screening strategy, especially when used in combination with regular physical exams by a doctor and mammography. Women are urged to routinely perform breast self-exams as part of their overall breast cancer screening strategy.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among
black women, and an estimated 30,700 new cases are expected
to be diagnosed in 2016. Similar to the pattern among white
women, breast cancer incidence rates among black women
increased rapidly during much of the 1980s largely due to increased detection by mammography screening.
However, while rates thereafter generally stabilized
in white women they continued to increase, albeit more slowly,
in black women (0.5% per year from 1986 to 2012).4
As a result, incidence rates in black and white women converged in 2012.
Here are some tips on how to perform a Breast Self-Exam:
- Do a breast self-examination once a month to familiarize yourself with how your breasts normally look and feel. Examine yourself several days after your period ends, so that your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender. If you are no longer having periods, choose a day that’s easy to remember and consistent each month, like the first or last day of the month.
- Take a deep breath. A lump doesn’t always mean cancer. Most women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts all the time. While it’s always important to be extra-careful and have any suspicious lumps checked out, remember that only 20% of women who have a suspicious lump biopsied turn out to have breast cancer.
- Know each area. Breasts tend to have different segments that have distinct feels. The upper, outer area closest to your armpit tends to have the most prominent lumps and bumps. The lower half of your breast can feel like a sandy or pebbly beach. The area under the nipple can feel like a collection of large grains. Other areas may feel a bit like oatmeal.
- If you have to, keep a journal. Since you already have enough to remember, jot down notes from your monthly Breast Self-Exam, including where you feel lumps or irregularities. It is normal for lumps to appear at certain times of the month, but then disappear as your body changes with the menstrual cycle (if you are still menstruating). Only changes that last beyond one full cycle, or seem to get bigger or more prominent in some way, need your doctor’s attention.
- Don’t drink alcohol. There is a direct correlation between alcohol intake and breast cancer. If you aren’t ready to quit, at least limit your intake to less than one each day.
- Don’t smoke cigarettes. This one should be a no-brainer. Cigarettes are among the worst things you can do to your body. In addition to lung cancer, emphysema, and a host of other ailments, smoking can cause breast cancer, especially in premenopausal women.
- Breastfeed your children. There is evidence that breastfeeding your children has a positive effect on your breasts. In fact, the longer the duration, the healthier your breasts may be.
- Is there anything exercise can’t do? Among its many benefits, it can help you maintain your weight, which can help to prevent breast cancer.
While no one really looks forward to examining their own breasts, ignoring the issue is a problem. Face your breasts this month, and know that by detecting any irregularities early, you have a greater chance of preventing any further problems. Here’s to healthy beautiful breasts!
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