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Nurturing Your Well-being: Breast Awareness, Healthy Habits, and Tracking Your Health

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Nurturing Your Well-being: Breast Awareness, Healthy Habits, and Tracking Your Health
Nurturing Your Well-being: Breast Awareness, Healthy Habits, and Tracking Your Health

Contrary to widespread knowledge, breast cancer affects women of all ages, not just those over 40. According to Dr. Geoffrey Ray and Oncology Nurse Navigator Debra Rundles, who were IAWH guests at the "Breast Health, By Any Means Necessary" webinar, many younger women believe that breast cancer is something they don't need to worry about until later in life. However, breast cancer knows no age, and this blog supports our being body-aware, which means understanding that breast changes occur at any time, regardless of age, health habits to consider, and being vigilant in tracking our health.

Healthy Habits and Basics of Breast Health

Breast health is a vital part of our overall well-being. Understanding your body, maintaining a healthy weight, and adopting positive habits impact your health significantly, as there are known associations between these factors and determining breast cancer risk. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Breast health begins with breast awareness — getting a sense of what's typical for you. Being familiar with how your breasts usually feel makes it easier to detect when there's a change. Over time, you'll discover how your breasts change in sensitivity and texture depending on your menstrual cycle, age, and other factors.

Concerns about breast lumps, breast pain, or nipple discharge are common. When you have questions or concerns, talk to your healthcare provider. Your provider can discuss imaging tests you might need based on a clinical exam.

It's essential to understand the screening tests you may need for early detection of breast cancer. They include:

· Clinical breast exams

· Mammograms

· Breast ultrasounds

· Breast MRI

Weight Management for our Health and Risk Factors to Cancer

Weight management is essential to our overall health. IAWH turns to a recent Cleveland Clinic discussion, "How to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer (with Tiffany Onger, MD," to provide context and best practices about weight management, physical activity, and our health.

One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their life. However, there are things you can do to lower your risk. Dr. Onger mentions that some risks cannot be controlled or reduced (like genetics, family history, or as we age, our risk for breast cancer goes up). However, she says, there are modifiable risk factors or things that we can each do to reduce our risk - some of those modifiable risk factors include being at a higher weight, physical inactivity, and alcohol use.

Another vital point Dr. Onger makes is that "In particular for postmenopausal women, that being at a higher weight category - we call this either overweight or having obesity - can increase your risk for breast cancer. Part of it has to do with the fact that you're carrying more fat within the body, and that can affect the hormones that are circulating throughout your body. But we also know that physical inactivity can contribute to not only a higher weight but can also independently increase your risk for breast cancer. She recommends physical activity recommendations of 30 minutes a day of physical activity, five days a week. She says, "So if you're walking with friends, you should be a little breathless as you're having the conversation. So not so slow that you could sing, but not so fast that you're not able to have a conversation at all." Overall, maintaining a healthy weight is not just about appearance but overall health.

BMI – What Is It?

You may have heard a lot about Body Mass Index (BMI) – generally defined as a numerical value based on your overall height and weight. However, due to significant limitations associated with the widespread use of BMI in clinical settings, in June 2023, the American Medical Association suggested that "[BMI] be used in conjunction with other valid measures of risk. Body shape and composition differences across race/ethnic groups, sexes, genders, and age spans should also be considered when using BMI as a health measure.

Given this, the IAWH snippet of a 2020 video discusses BMI and its importance to cancer risk. It is referenced in the more widely used context before the June 2023 suggestion provided by the AMA. Overall, some physicians find it helpful to measure body fat using BMI as one factor for diagnosing obesity. Still, it can also provide an incomplete health picture - as always, ask questions and get answers.

Six Healthy Habits to Support Your Healthy Lifestyle Goals

Cancer cells are opportunistic invaders, so they thrive in a body out of balance. Weight gain, especially if it leads to obesity, disrupts your body's equilibrium, and is linked to numerous health issues, including diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology's (ACOG), losing as little as 5% to 10% of your body weight can reduce your cancer risk. It may seem small, but research shows it can improve your health. Healthy habits form the foundation of a strong body and mind. Here are some practical tips to consider if you're trying to adjust your lifestyle:

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: Aim for at least five servings daily. Fruits and veggies are packed with nutrients and antioxidants that boost your health. The Cleveland Clinic provides excellent advice and finds that following a plant-based diet has significant health benefits if done correctly.

Regular Exercise: Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. It doesn't have to be intense; even a brisk walk makes a difference.

Limit Alcohol Intake: One drink per day is a reasonable limit.

Quit Smoking: If you smoke, make every effort to quit. It may take several attempts, but persistence pays off.

Set goals to help build strength and make you more healthful in years to come.

Get good sleep: Disruptions in the body's "biological clock," which controls sleep and thousands of other functions, may raise the odds of breast, colon, ovaries, and prostate cancers. Exposure to light while working overnight shifts for several years may reduce melatonin levels, encouraging cancer to grow. (Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Body Awareness and Self-Care: "Tracking" Your Health

Oncology Nurse Navigator Debra Rundles recommends keeping a notebook (or journaling) to track our well-being, including our menstrual cycle, medications, and any health-related questions – she emphasizes starting the young women in our life with this form of journaling as early as possible. Hence, they become accustomed to being aware of their health and body changes. Keep notes of crucial preventive appointments, including mammograms, which are necessary for early detection, and be mindful of your hormonal cycle, as breast tenderness affects mammogram discomfort – we know - you get it and that electronic calendars can also support our tracking efforts, but jotting it down in one place is often helpful for quick and easy reference.

Encourage your loved ones to be your accountability partners. They can help monitor your health, just as you would for them. Contrary to some advice, self-breast exams are helpful. Don't hesitate to speak up if you notice any changes in your breasts.

Journaling, or writing down your thoughts and feelings at any age helps to bring clarity to daily situations, and you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health – a method for releasing anxiety, pouring into yourself with personal affirmations, and can help you gain control of your feelings and improve your mental health.

Nurturing your well-being involves body awareness, maintaining a healthy weight, and adopting positive lifestyle habits. Breast health isn't just about mammograms; it's about understanding your body and taking proactive steps toward a healthier, happier life. Start today, and your future self will thank you.


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