It seems that every month has a disease attached to it. And with good reason. Any chance to highlight health risks and learn ways to protect ourselves is a good thing. So with that in mind, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month.
“Awareness” is a meaningful word, but it means more than simply being aware that the disease exists. Forewarned is fore armed, as they say, so awareness translates into taking action.
How do you take action against breast cancer? First off, know your risk.
Just being a woman is your No. 1 risk for breast cancer. And as you get older, your risk increases. If you have a family history of breast cancer, tell your health care provider and discuss any other risk factors you have.
Secondly, get screened.
There is more than one screening technique, so ask your provider which one is right for you, including mammograms and a clinical breast exam performed by the medical provider at a yearly physical.
Third, know what is normal for you.
All women are different and what is normal for one is abnormal for another, so a monthly breast self-exam can help you become familiar with your own body and notice whether anything is unusual.
Signs of breast cancer may include unusual lumps, but also swelling, a change in the size or shape of the breast, dimpling or puckering of the skin or a discharge or rash around the nipple. While these changes are unlikely to be breast cancer, it’s still important to have anything unusual checked out quickly.
And lastly, make lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight. As if menopause were not stressful enough, weight gain after the fact may increase a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer. But if you have gained weight, losing it may reduce your risk.
Get some exercise. It helps fight obesity, lowers estrogen levels and improves immune function.
Limit alcohol, because the more you drink, the greater your risk. Try to limit imbibing to one drink a day, advises mayoclinic.com. And, of course, don’t smoke.
While October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, staying focused on breast health all year round is important for good health.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.