When we talk about breast health, we really mean all the things you can do to keep your breasts healthy – which is a little bit more than just avoiding disease or illness. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about breast health, including properly-fitting bras, skin protection, diet and breast checks.
You hear a lot about disease of the breast and, in particular, breast cancer. Today we're going to take a different tack and talk about breast health. When we talk about breast health, we really mean all the things you can do to keep the breasts healthy, and that's a little bit more than just avoiding disease or illness.
So let's start with the very obvious and basic. A lot of women do get soreness in the breast due to ill-fitting bras. It's suggested that as many as 70–75% of women don't have bras which are suited to them and are properly fitting. This can lead to breast soreness as we mentioned, but also sometimes pain in the shoulders and the back. So number one in breast health is having a bra that actually fits you and is suited to you. Now this sometimes means having to spend a little bit more time and possibly a few more dollars, but this is something you are going to be wearing and it is going to make quite a difference.
Another sometimes overlooked part of breast health is that of course the breasts have a skin coverage. When you're out and about, particularly in the summertime, and the top part of the cleavage is exposed to UV rays, then just remember to use some sunscreen. This is obvious when you're at the beach but even if you're in a summer frock, it's something just to keep in mind because skin cancers can also occur on the breast.
In terms of breast health, making sure that you are getting a good supply of omega 3 fatty acids is important – they've been shown to be very useful – and also making sure that you're getting some vitamin D. Now, we touched before about not getting skin cancer, but vitamin D deficiencies have actually been associated with breast cancer. So vitamin D means getting a little bit of sunshine, but you can also get vitamin D from dairy products and other dietary sources. So these are simple things that can make a difference.
Obviously, checking your breasts is important, and it is something you should do once a month. Regular breast self-examination means being familiar with what the breasts feel like. There's no absolute right or wrong and breasts come in all different shapes and sizes. Some women have naturally 'lumpy' breasts and others don't. Having lumpy breasts of itself is not a problem, and if they're not changing month-to-month, then there is no issue. The idea of regular breasts checks is to be familiar with what your breasts usually feel like so that you can notice a change. If you do notice a change, then that's the time to go off to see your doctor. If it turns out to be a false alarm and it isn't anything major, so much the better, but if there is a change, it's worth following that up.
There is also cyclical change, which is normal, and this is why it is important to do breast checks around the same time each month. The best time is just after your period. Some women will get lumps which are called hormonal lumps that come up in the second half of the cycle and can be most noticeable just before the period. These will go after your period – that's why the best time to do your monthly breast check is after your period has finished.
As women get older – for women that are 50 and older – a regular mammogram is part of breast health, but a regular mammogram is not the only thing you need to do. A monthly check is still very important, because mammograms are done every two years and a lot can change in that time.
Breast soreness, or mastalgia, is something that is also reasonably common. Again, sore breasts are not necessarily cancerous, but it is important to get it checked. There is a whole range of other benign and non-cancerous lumps that women can get, the most common being fibroadenomas. These can be managed by your doctor and if really needed can be cut out, but this is not always required.
So like all parts of the body, looking after your breasts means doing simple things regularly. Make sure you've got a good fitting bra, remember the sunscreen, get your omega 3 and vitamin D, and do your regular breast checks.
Get the basics right, and you've probably got 95% of it covered, and you'll keep your breasts in good health.
For more information on breast cancer, types of breast cancer and its investigations and treatments, as well as some useful videos, see Breast Cancer.
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