It is natural for us to want to look and feel healthy. Our health affects how we look. Our body image is how we feel about how we look. A positive body image plays an important role in our happiness and good health. Some health concerns that can affect our positive body image are breast cancer, pregnancy, skin disorders, and aging to name a few.
Good breast health is important to a woman. The risk of breast cancer increases, as a woman gets older. One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. A diagnosis of breast cancer can have a negative impact on a woman’s health and body image.
A Little Anatomy About the Breasts
Breasts begin to develop on a female between the ages of 10 and 14. The size and shape of the breasts will continually change throughout a woman’s lifetime.
The breasts are made up of different kinds of tissue. These are glandular tissue, fatty tissue, and fibrous tissue. The glandular tissue includes lobules and ducts. The lobules produce milk during breast-feeding times and the ducts carry milk to the nipple.
Fatty tissue gives the breast it’s soft feeling and supports the breast. The fibrous tissue includes ligaments that support the breast also. It is normal for:
- One breast to be larger/smaller than the other
- Some lumpiness is normal, and it is important for you to know your own breasts
- Breast size varies with each woman
- Breast might feel different around period time
- Hair on the breasts is not unusual
- Breast shape changes, as we get older
- Nipples vary in size, shape, and color
About Breast Changes
A woman can have breast changes with or without symptoms. Breast changes can be benign or malignant. The word benign means not cancerous. This type of breast change is common and non-threatening. Breast changes that are malignant are referred to as breast cancer.
Some common benign breast changes include:
- Fibrocystic changes where the breasts feel tender and lumpy
- Breast inflammation such as mastitis
- Benign breast tumors
- Nipple discharge
Concerns About Breast Cancer
It is natural for a woman to be concerned about breast cancer. Researchers do not know what causes breast cancer. Cancer is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells. Some risks to developing breast cancer have been identified. They can be called uncontrollable risk factors or controllable risk factors.
Uncontrollable risk factors, things you can’t do anything about, include:
- You are female
- Increasing in age
- Personal history of breast cancer
- Family history of breast cancer
- Early menstruation, before age 12
- Delayed childbirth, first child at age 30 or older
- History of exposure to radiation treatments
Controllable risk factors, things you can change, include:
- Alcohol usage
- Smoking history
- 40 percent overweight
- Certain dietary factors, such as high fat diet
- Little or no exercise
- Read more information on breast cancer from The American Cancer Society.
What Can You Do?
Early detection of breast cancer is very important. According to the American Cancer Society, if you can identify breast cancer while it is still quite small and has not spread, the five-year survival rate is 97%. Develop good habits for breast health and decrease your chance of developing breast cancer.
Learn to perform a self-breast exam (SBE). Do this monthly to recognize changes with your breasts. The best time to perform your breast exam is three to eight days after your monthly menstrual cycle has begun.
By becoming familiar with your breasts, you will be able to tell what is normal and what is not. Normal breasts can feel lumpy. If you feel something new about your breasts, notify your doctor. Have a medical professional perform a breast exam yearly (clinical breast exam, CBE).
A yearly mammogram (low-dose x-ray of the breast) can detect growths before you can feel them. Have a baseline mammogram done between the age of 35 and 40, and a yearly mammogram after that. The best way for a doctor to interpret your mammogram films is by comparing them to previous films. If you go to a new facility, bring your old films with you for comparison.
You are encouraged to discuss all health concerns with your doctor. Maintaining good general health throughout your lifetime is important. Research tells us that regular exercise plays an important part of a healthy lifestyle. The physical effects of exercise are extensive, such as increased blood flow, flexibility, and mobility. Before getting started on an exercise program, consult your doctor.
Take time for yourself. Adequate rest, relaxation, and proper nutrition can control daily stress. A healthy body and healthy attitude equals a positive self-image.
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