October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, an annual worldwide campaign to spread awareness about the disease, and to encourage both screening and prevention. Breast cancer can only be diagnosed by a professional, but there are things you can check for that might signal that you need to see a doctor. Here is our list of warning signs to watch out for, as well as tips to reduce your chance of getting breast cancer.
Why Has My Breast Changed?
The first early sign of breast cancer is a change in how the breast looks and feels. This is why it’s so important to make examining yourself in a mirror a regular part of your self-care routine. When looking at your breasts or nipples, check for:
- Unexplained changes in the size or shape of the breast
- Lumps in or around the breast and underarm area
- Texture changes
- Large pores (often described as resembling the texture of an orange)
- Nipple discharge (clear, milky, or bloody)
- Random swelling (especially if it occurs on only one side)
- Recent asymmetry
- Nipple inversion
- Unexplained redness
- The skin of your breast or nipples becoming scaly
Any of these sudden changes can be an early indicator of breast cancer. If you notice these changes in your breast, make an appointment with your doctor to get checked.
Reducing Breast Cancer Risk
We want to make one thing clear: cancer is not preventable. And some of the factors that make you more likely to get breast cancer—like being a woman, your age, family history, and genetics—are not things you can change. However, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of getting breast cancer:
1. Reduce your alcohol consumption. Research shows that women who drink 3 alcoholic drinks a week are 15% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t drink at all. Alcohol can not only alter our hormone levels, but it can also damage our DNA, both of which increases our chances of developing breast cancer.
2. Exercise more. Exercising has positive effects on every aspect of our health, including reducing our risk of breast cancer. While the exact science is still unclear, experts believe that regular exercise helps to regulate our hormones and immune system, both of which play an important role in risk reduction. And in women who have already had breast cancer, exercise can help reduce your chance of getting it again.
3. Increase your vitamin D intake. A groundbreaking study by researchers at the University of California shows that women who actively intake more vitamin D have a lower risk of breast cancer. Researchers believe this is because vitamin D boosts your immune system and plays a big role in normal cell growth.
4. Maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that weight gain is a big factor in breast cancer risk. Women who gain 20-30 pounds in adulthood are 40% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who only gain up to 5 pounds. The reason for this is that fat tissue can convert into estrogen, which is believed to increase breast cancer risk.
The Bottom Line
Your risk of developing breast cancer depends on an incredibly wide range of factors. But if you maintain a healthy lifestyle and actively keep an eye on your breast health, you can significantly reduce your chances of getting breast cancer.