Want to hear some really scary facts before Halloween?
- Every three minutes in the United States, another person is diagnosed with breast cancer
- Every 13 minutes, a woman loses her fight with breast cancer
- One in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime
- For women ages 20 to 59, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death. Each year, an average of 40,000 women die from it, approximately 20 percent of the year’s total diagnoses.
October is about more than trick or treat. It also marks the Susan G. Komen Month of Awareness for Breast Cancer Research. As female athletes, we tend to take our youth and health for granted, but the unfortunate truth is that breast cancer can strike anyone, regardless of age, race or even fitness level.
Although it’s a topic noone wants to dwell on, breast cancer is something every girl should know about to help avoid her own diagnosis or prevent a loved one’s. You cannot change your family history or the timing of your first period—studies show that women who have their first period early are at higher risk for breast cancer—but you can take a number of steps to lower your risk for breast cancer.
1. Maintain weight
If you’re an athlete, maintaining a healthy weight should already be a priority. Excess body fat increases the risk of breast cancer, because it creates additional estrogen that circulates freely in the blood.
2. Eat healthy
Fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help protect against all forms of cancer. Studies show that eating at least five daily servings reduces the odds of breast cancer, particularly in young women who participate in daily exercise. (See the STACK Healthy Eating Guide for suggestions.)
3. Drink milk
Drinking milk, eating calcium-rich foods or taking a calcium supplement have been shown to reduce a woman’s chance of breast cancer.
4. Consume flaxseed
Flaxseed is a source of lignan, a compound that helps prevent estrogen-dependent cancers by inhibiting tumor development and slowing growth rate. Other sources include sunflower seeds, peanuts, cashews, rye bread, and strawberries.
(Read more on the superfood Flaxseed.)
5. Fill up on fiber
Slash your risk of breast cancer in half by choosing a diet rich in fiber. Fiber-rich foods like fruits and veggies contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that researchers believe prevent the disease.
Girls who exercise regularly have lower body fat, insulin and circulating estrogen. Researchers found that girls who worked out at least six hours every week were 23 percent less likely to get breast cancer than those who didn’t.
7. Don’t smoke
Smoking isn’t linked as conclusively to breast cancer as it is to lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, but researchers have connected smoking in younger women to a higher risk for breast cancer.
If you know what looks and feels normal, you’ll know sooner than anyone if things aren’t quite right. So how do you perform a self-test?
Step 1: Begin by lying down. This is important because it ensures the skin spreads evenly over the chest so you can feel all of your breast tissue.
Step 2: Place one arm over your head and use the fingers of your other hand to move your breast up and down.
Step 3: Use varying amounts of pressure to check for anything suspicious in the entire area, including rib cage and armpits. Note anything that doesn’t look or feel normal, including lumps, bumps, dimples, redness or leakage.
Perform a self-test once a month. The American Cancer Society recommends that women in their 20s and 30s get clinical breast exams during their doctor visits at least once every two or three years until they turn 40. However, regardless of your age, see a doctor immediately if you see or feel anything suspicious.
Share this information with your teammates, friends and loved ones to help others prevent breast cancer. Together, we’re all working toward a cure.