Let’s Talk About Breast Health

By: Emily Menge ’15, University of Maryland Health Center, HEALTH Works Peer Educator

When you think of October, what do you think of? Cooler weather? Pumpkin spice lattes? Football games?

I think of Breast Cancer Awareness month and encourage you to as well. Even though as college students we are focused on school, it is important to remember to keep our health in mind.

The iconic "M" circle in the center of campus decorated in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer. Image credit: Emily Menge.

The iconic “M” circle in the center of campus decorated in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer. Image credit: Emily Menge.

It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

That statistic translates to 2,189 women on the University of Maryland campus. This is almost 5% of the student body! This is a number we can’t ignore.

Through research and prevention, I hope that we can decrease this number dramatically. Although there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, there are healthy lifestyle choices that you can make that might reduce your risk and increase your chances for early detection.

You can detect breast cancer as early as possible throug self-breast exams and yearly mammograms after the age of 40, for women of average risk.

Lifestyle factors that may affect your risk for breast cancer:

  • Taking oral contraceptives may increase your risk. Overtime, the risk goes back to normal after the pill is stopped, but it is important to talk to your doctor about the effects of this medication.
  • Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease your risk for breast cancer.
  • The more alcohol you drink, your risk of developing breast cancer increases. It is recommended that women limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day.
  • Physical activity decreases your risk of breast cancer. As little as 1-2 hours of exercise per week can decrease a woman’s risk by 18%.

Source:American Cancer Society

Although some people may be uncomfortable talking about it, it is also important to administer self-breast exams regularly.

If you conduct self-breast exams regularly you will understand what is “normal” for your body which could make it easier for you to notice when something is not right.

This small step could be the difference between catching the disease in the early stages or when it’s too late. It is important to remember self-breast exams should not replace clinical breast exams which are recommended every 3 years from ages 20-39 and every year starting at age 40.

Source: Susan G. Komen

Easy guide to a quick self-breast exam:

Step 1: Look in the mirror with your back straight and arms at your hip. Are your breasts their usual size, shape, and color? Do you notice any swelling, dimpling, or puckering? Has your nipple changed position or inverted?

Step 2: Raise your arms and look for the same signs.

Step 3: Lie down and examine your right breast with your left hand and your left breast with your right hand. Using two fingers press firmly in a circular motion about the size of a quarter. You should cover your entire breast from your collarbone to your abdomen and from your armpit to your cleavage.

Step 4: Follow the same procedure while standing up. Many women find it easier to administer this exam when their skin is slightly wet -such as in the shower.

If you find anything unusual during your exam, contact your doctor and have them take a look. Even if you notice anything slightly out of the ordinary, you should get it checked.

By following these recommendations you are taking control of your breast health. These small steps could be lifesaving and could help decrease the amount of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

If you ever feel like you need to be seen by a doctor or need a clinical breast exam, you can visit the Women’s Health department at the health center. Remember 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime – so tell a friend, sister, aunt, or cousin how they too can decrease their risk of breast cancer.

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