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The Importance of Self Breast Exams

Photo by: rachel a.k. (Flickr)

Alright ladies, do not make me come over there! Nothing in women's health is more important than breast self-exams. Period. Okay, well, there are other things equally as important, but self-exams are one of the easiest ways to ensure that you don't have breast cancer. Prevention is the best medicine, and an apple a day to keep the doctor away will not stop this disease, although a healthy diet is an excellent way to reduce your risk. So, let's talk about the importance of self-breast exams, and I don't want to hear any excuses as to why you aren't doing your exams monthly.

I'm going to begin with some stats intended to frighten those of you who are not performing your self-exams into doing it, as well as confirm for those who are why you are. Breast cancer comes in two forms: invasive and non-invasive. One in eight women (or 12 percent) is at risk for developing invasive breast cancer - that's the bad one. It is estimated that 232,340 women will develop invasive breast cancer in 2013; another 64,640 women are expected to be diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer. And by the way, men get breast cancer too, and although it's rare, it still happens to about 2,000 men annually.

Performing a monthly breast self-examination after your period, and then monthly after menopause, helps detect cancerous cells early. The earlier the detection, the higher likelihood you will survive breast cancer. You see, cancer becomes terminal upon metastasis. Metastasis means the cancer has spread from your breast to other parts of your body. Self-exams catch tumors in the beginning stages of their development, which means the cancer, hopefully, has not had a chance to metastasize yet. It bears repeating, the earlier the detection, the more likelihood of survival, and survival is pretty important, don't you think?

Self-exams aren't the only thing you can do, however, to detect breast cancer early. Keep an eye on your breasts as well. Look for things like breast swelling (other than the swelling before your monthly period or if you are pregnant or lactating); dimpling or skin irritation; pain in your breasts or nipples; nipples turning inward; skin or nipples that have become red, scaly, or unusually thick; discharge other than breast milk coming from your nipples. A mammogram is also a good idea once you've reached the age that your doctor recommends them.

You can also take some steps to beef up your resistance to breast cancer; remember, prevention is the best medicine. Don't “party like its 1999.” Limiting alcohol and not smoking are two keys steps in preventing breast cancer. If you must have that glass of wine with dinner, keep it to one. If you must have that cigarette, forget it. Quit smoking - NOW! Lung cancer is the number one cancer in women; breast cancer is the second. Eat a healthy diet with tons of fruits and vegetables. Exercise, as well. Not only do diet and exercise prevent breast cancer, they also keep your weight under control, which is another preventative method.

Moms, breast-feed your babies. Believe it or not, breast-feeding is believed to prevent breast cancer. Besides, it's also healthier for your baby and provides some crucial mommy/baby bonding time. Avoid hormone therapy no matter what. New studies confirm that hormone therapy is a direct link to the cause of breast cancer. Do not pop those hormones unless you absolutely have to for medical reasons. Finally, do not expose yourself to radiation unless absolutely necessary, and try to control your environmental pollution. Easier said than done, I know, but if you don't absolutely need that x-ray or MRI, don't do it. And, try to steer clear of gasoline, exhaust fumes, and other environmental hazards.

Why am I harping so much about the importance of self-breast exams? Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and everyone should be aware of the dangers of breast cancer, as well as how to prevent and detect it. And even if it weren't October, I'd still be harping about it. In a majority of cases, breast cancer can be detected early enough to ensure it is not fatal. There is no excuse not to conduct monthly breast self-exams.

To learn more about breast cancer detection and prevention, please see the following links:

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