As many as one in eight women may receive a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes[1].

For women, breast health awareness is a vital part of staying healthy for life.

And while most people think of pink ribbons and mammograms, there’s far more to breast health awareness than that.

In this article you’ll find 6 tips that can prevent breast cancer, result in early detection, and create better outcomes for you, the women in your life, and your entire community.

What is Breast Health Awareness?

Breast health awareness is related to breast cancer awareness, but they’re not quite the same.

Here’s one definition of breast cancer awareness:

Breast cancer awareness is an effort to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of breast cancer through education on symptoms and treatment.

Does anything seem to be missing? How about breast cancer prevention, breast cancer research, and promotion of overall health?

By focusing on breast health rather than just cancer, you can take a holistic approach to preventing cancer and staying healthy in other ways, too.

Breast health awareness is an effort to increase women’s ability to stay healthy and detect problems early, as well as encourage education on prevention, informed treatment, and individualized approaches for healthier lives.

6 Must-Know Tips for Breast Health Awareness

#1 Know Your Risk Factors

Like everything else, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to breast health awareness.

The best place to start, however, is by understanding your individual risk factors.

Here are the most important risk factors that can affect your breast cancer risk:

  • Family history predicts a 250% increased risk if you have two or more family members who have had breast cancer[2]
  • One or more BRCA mutations can increase your lifetime risk five-fold[3]
  • Age is a risk factor, particularly after age 50[4]
  • Vitamin D deficiency can increase your risk eight-fold[5]
  • Night shift or rotating shift work can increase your risk by up to 51%[6]
  • Smoking may increase your risk by up to 24%[7]

For example, if you have a family history of breast cancer, one or two BRCA mutations, or are over 50, it pays to be extra-vigilant.

But as you can see, you also have control over some of your risk factors.

While no one can change their health history, family history, genes, or age, you can still take meaningful action to lower your risk of breast cancer.

If you are deficient in vitamin D (based on the 25-hydroxy-D3 or 25-OH-D3 blood test), get more sunlight or take vitamin D3 supplements.

Work nights? Shifting to a daytime-only schedule could lower your risk of breast cancer by 34%.

And if you’re a smoker, you can lower your risk of breast cancer by up to 19% if you quit.

#2 Balance Your Hormones

Depending on your age, balanced hormones can mean different things.

For premenopausal women, oral hormonal contraceptives may raise the risk of breast cancer and other health problems[8].

When you consider that these pills are designed to disrupt hormones, it’s not exactly surprising.

On the other hand, in postmenopausal women, hormone imbalances caused by excessive drinking or obesity can raise breast cancer risk[9].

Some evidence shows an increased risk of breast cancer with hormone replacement, but it’s not conclusive[10]. If you are concerned about breast cancer risk but considering hormone replacement, speak to your doctor.

#3: Perform Regular Breast Self-Exams

Breast self-exams are the cornerstone of breast cancer prevention.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lie down to allow your breast tissue to spread evenly and flat.
  2. Place a pillow under your right shoulder, then rest your right arm behind your head.
  3. Using your left hand, apply light, then medium, then firm pressure. Move your fingers around your breast in small circular motions. Cover the entire breast and armpit area.
  4. Squeeze your nipple and look for discharge or lumps.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
  6. Look in the mirror for swelling, changes in your skin, or other differences.

Make sure you perform a self-exam at least once per month.

No matter your age, starting self-exams early can increase the chances of early detection. This is especially true if you have one or more risk factors[11].

#4: Not All Lumps Are Breast Cancer

Found a lump? The good news is that up to 90% of lumps women detect aren’t breast cancer[12].

Painful lumps are even more unlikely to be breast cancer. They may be caused by your menstrual cycle, benign fibroadenomas, breast fibrosis, or even injuries.

Still, it’s best to play it safe. If you detect any lumps or other abnormalities, schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can.

#5: Mammograms Are Expensive, Harmful, and Unnecessary

According to some doctors, many women need a yearly mammogram. These physicians consider mammograms the gold standard in early breast cancer detection.

Unfortunately, mammograms have a high false positive rate, as well as a high false negative rate[13]. In other words, you’re more likely to get an alarming (but incorrect) diagnosis, and if you do have breast cancer, mammograms may miss it.

Sadly, plenty of women even get unnecessary invasive treatment for nonexistent breast cancer because of mammograms.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, mammography may raise your risk of cancer through radiation[14]. This painful technique may also crush existing tumors, increasing the risk of malignancy[15].

Bottom line: mammograms don’t lower the rate of advanced cancers, and there are better methods.

#6: Consider Ultrasound Scans and Thermography

While mammography is generally a bad idea, that doesn’t mean you can’t get accurate yearly scans.

Ultrasound is a non-invasive, radiation-free alternative to mammograms[16]. And in women with dense breasts, ultrasound appears to be more effective than mammograms[17].

Thermography, also called medical infrared imaging, is another safer way to screen for breast cancer. While it’s not approved for use as a stand-alone detection method, it can raise the accuracy of other methods[18].

Conclusion: Prioritize Breast Health Awareness

Now you know the basics of breast health awareness.

Want help with understanding your risk factors, balancing your hormones, learning how to perform a self-exam, or setting up a screening schedule?

Consider calling the Complete Care network today to set up an appointment. You can receive a consultation, then get a referral to a provider who’s a perfect match for your needs.