It’s October! This month is significant for a lot of reasons. It reminds a lot of people that the year is coming to an end, it puts a good portion of the world in a spooky mood and most people spend the entire month embracing the Halloween spirit and so much more. Today we want to focus on the reason some people wear pink throughout most of the month. In addition to everything else October is known for, it’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Every year cancer causes over 70,000 deaths in Nigeria. 28,414 of these deaths are male and the rest, are female. That is over 41,913 women who die from cancer, every year. 25.7% of these deaths are caused by breast cancer. Breast cancer is now the most prevalent disease that affects women in Nigeria. The survival rate is usually almost catastrophic as most are usually caught late.
The key to beating breast cancer is early diagnosis. “When diagnosed early and treated before it spreads, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 99%”. In Nigeria, the majority of breast cancer patients are typically young women below 55. They are usually diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease. However, recent years have seen significant advancements in understanding the fundamental aspects of breast cancer, such as its genetic underpinnings and pathology. These developments are prompting changes in the way the disease is managed, ultimately improving the prognosis. Our aim is to contribute to these positive changes.
Below are 8 preventive measures I feel every woman should always have at the back of her mind. They may just be the key that helps you avoid breast cancer.
Know Your Risks
You can’t prevent anything if you don’t know anything. Knowledge will give you the power you need to face this. It will also help guide you on the how-bits. Some factors can put you at a higher risk than most people. Some risk factors can be helped while others can’t. Information will let you know what you can and cannot do. Below are things that put you at risk of having breast cancer.
- Being a woman
- Being a woman 55 and above
- Having a family history of breast cancer
- Having dense breasts
- Early menstruation(before 12)
- You’ve had breast cancer before
- Having a mutation in the BRCA1and BRCA 2 gene
- Being overweight or Obese
- Never getting pregnant
- Getting pregnant after age 30
- Hormone therapy
- Lack of physical activities
After reading the risk factors above it’s normal to feel hopeless. A lot of these risks are things you physically and literally cannot help. It’s easy to focus on that but we hope to convince you not to. There’s plenty you can’t do but there’s just as much that you can do. Keep reading to find out.
Learn Your Family Medical History
As you read above, early detection is everything. If someone in your family line had breast cancer, the chances of you getting it are pretty high. However, there are now tests to find out if you have the gene mutation, which lets you know if your risks are higher than most women’s. This is a big step in figting breast cancer.
Studies have shown that being physically active can help lower your risks. One thing’s certain, it’ll help you maintain your weight(and lose some if that’s the goal) which will help take away one risk factor- being overweight.
A lot of people hate working out for a lot of reasons. I’ve come to realise that a workout can be almost anything. You don’t have to follow the steps X trainer said would definitely help shrink your waist and whatnot, if it’s making you miserable. Find things you like. For example, I love swimming and dancing. I can get a good workout from both. If you feel you don’t like anything that makes you expend energy then pick something you can tolerate- like walking and pair it with something you love- music, podcasts or audiobooks. It can help make the time pass faster while you get in your recommended workout.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Alcohol, even in small amounts is said to increase your risk. Simply put, the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to get breast cancer. No more than 2 bottles per day is recommended.
This is usually easier said than done but it is paramount to ensure your health. Smoking weakens the immune system which breaks down or changes a cell’s DNA which can and more often than not leads to the growth of a tumor. If you’re struggling with quitting, you can get help here.
Have a Healthy Diet
All our lives, since we were school children we’ve been taught that if you eat right you will be healthy. It was true then and it is now. Maintaining a healthy, nutrient-dense diet can help reduce your risk of getting breast cancer. Research tells us that certain foods can be very beneficial in your lifelong journey, preventing breast cancer.
- A rich plant-based diet( nuts, seeds and so on)
- Whole grains
- Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and so on.
- Foods high in fibre
- Leafy vegetables like spinach
As important as it is to know foods that can help you prevent breast cancer, it’s just as important to know the ones that could increase your risk of getting it.
- Animal fats
- Refined Carbs
- Fried foods
- Fast food
- Processed foods
After learning your family history and getting tested, if you’re at a higher risk than most women, listen to all your healthcare practitioner has to say. They’ll tell you how often to get screened and what the best steps for you are.
The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone else should start going for check-ups and clinical examinations every three years between the ages of 25-39. Once you turn 40 go for breast screenings every year and when you turn 55, go every 2 years for as long as you remain healthy.
Always do your breast self-examination every month at the same time. The aim of regular self-examinations is to let you get used to how your breasts usually feel and look which allows you to know when something is different. The steps below will help guide you through it;
Stand in front of a mirror with your breasts, bare. Lower your arms to your sides and carefully examine your breasts for alterations in shape, swelling, skin dimpling, or nipple position. Then, extend your arms upwards as high as possible and repeat the same observation. Lastly, place your hands on your hips and apply gentle pressure to engage your chest muscles. do this twice and make sure you check both breasts.
First, use your right hand to feel your left breast. Use the tips of the three middle fingers of your hand and press gently at first, then a bit harder, and finally with firm pressure. Look for any lumps, thick areas, or changes as you move your fingers in a circular motion. Make sure you check the tissue near your armpit and also examine under your nipple area. Squeeze your nipple gently to see if there’s any discharge. Repeat these steps on your left breast. Use your left hand to feel your right breast.
Lying down helps your breast tissue spread out evenly, which is great for finding any changes. This is especially helpful if you have larger breasts. Here’s how to do it:
- Take your top off and lie down with your breasts, bare and put a pillow under your right shoulder.
- Put your right arm behind your head.
- With your left hand, do the same technique above and use the middle fingers to gently press all over your breast and under your armpit.
- Then, switch the pillow to the other side and check your other breast and armpit.
- Make sure to examine under your nipple area and give your nipple a gentle squeeze to check for any discharge.
As you know by now, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During this time, people all over the world become more aware of the problems linked to breast cancer. It’s a month to remind everyone that this disease is real and can affect anyone. The efforts to raise awareness about breast cancer have helped people learn about their own risk factors, how to lower those risks, what signs to watch out for, and what tests they should have to detect it early. We hope this article contributes to raising awareness and promoting breast health!