October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Keep the "Girls" Healthy with These Simple Ideas

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In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I was going to do a quick little Cancer Prevention Tip but somehow that didn’t seem enough, at least not from me.  As a quick synopsis, in the fall of 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and in October of that year underwent a mastectomy.  Kind of ironic given it was Breast Cancer Awareness month, right?  Well, believe me, I was beyond aware!! 

Anyway, we’re here to talk about the Girls, a.k.a. breasts. So what you may not know is that after that surgery where cancer got to steal a piece of me, I had reconstruction to take back what was mine.  To re-word the line from Seinfeld, they’re not real, but they’re still spectacular, at least to me.  For anyone sitting on the fence about doing this, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, but reconstruction is a topic or another day.

Anatomy and Physiology

To start, I thought a little primer on the anatomy and physiology of breasts and they’re purposes may be helpful to remind people what they are and are not.  John Hopkins Medicine defines a breast as:

The breast is an organ whose structure reflects its special function: the production of milk for lactation (breast feeding). 

Sound sexy?  Definitely not, but let’s not forget what breasts were designed for – feeding our babies.  Sexual pleasure is an awesome side benefit! 

So if there are any men still reading, I apologize… these spectacular parts were not created just for you.  In fact, the male breast structure is nearly identical to the female breast with the exception that it lacks the specialized lobules where milk is produced, and, therefore, occupies less real estate.  Pretty cool, right?

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Now back to physiology.  Something super important to recognize is that blood supply to and from the breast is critical. This blood supply provides nutrients such as oxygen to breast tissue.

lymphatic system

Lymphatic System

Also of critical importance are the lymphatic vessels, which flow in the opposite direction to the blood supply. These drain into the lymph nodes which act as filters to the lymph fluid from the breast . 

Unlike blood circulation, which has the heart as a pump, our lymphatic system does not have a pump to assist with lymph flow. Movement or large muscle activity, such as exercise, is one way in which our lymphatic system keeps the lymph moving.

It’s our job to ensure that lymphatic circulation is unimpeded and flowing.  And just in case you didn’t realize it, the lymphatic system, which runs throughout our entire body, is an important part of our immune system as it helps eliminate toxins.   

When we restrict lymph flow, we run the risk of trapping toxins which can accumulate in breast tissue.  That’s definitely not a good thing. 

The bottom line?  Don’t restrict blood supply and lymph circulation.

What Can We Do? 

Let’s talk about keeping the Girls healthy!

Not to completely overwhelm you, what follows are just a few simple ideas to protect these precious commodities.

Go Braless 

For some, this may seem completely unfathomable.  But what bra-wearer can’t wait to get home at the end of a long day and rip that sucker off?  Listen to your body; it won’t steer you wrong.  No more straps or restrictions?  Sign me up!! 

Going braless may also help with improved lymph circulation which is a critical component of our immune system.   Personally, I’m all for anything that improves my immune function.  Better to prevent a health issue than to have to treat and heal one.   

Comfort and possible circulatory restriction aside, have you seen the price of bras lately?  It’s an exciting shopping day when Victoria’s Secret has a buy one, get one free sale.  Seriously what’s up with that? 

Can’t or Don’t Want to Go Braless?  Go Wireless

When I first started wearing wireless bras seven years ago, damn, were they ugly!  These days things are starting to look up.  While they are not necessarily abundant, one can certainly get a bra that is, dare I say, somewhat sexy and attractive.  Again, be prepared to spend and be forewarned that the selection may not be what you had hoped, but it may pay off in the long run.

Ensure a Proper Fit – Get Measured!

Let’s be clear, if you’re bra doesn’t fit properly to begin with, then no one is happy.  Not You.  Not your Girls.

So get your buns down to a store that does professional bra fitting and find out EXACTLY what your bra size is.  If you’re lucky, maybe Victoria’s Secret will have one of those buy one, get one free sales so you don’t have to take out a loan or mortgage the house.

Breast Self-Examination – Know What’s Going on in
Your Own Front Yard

As women, we’ve heard this one for years, ad nauseum, but take it from me, it’s a good idea.  Your breasts are your responsibility – not your doctor’s, not your partner’s – yours and yours alone. 

There’s a specific method of doing this so here’s a link from Maurer Foundation Breast Health Education (click here) which will walk you through the steps.  They even offer a print-friendly download for easy reference.  Bonus!

Get Moving!

Exercise CANNOT be overstated!  Along with feeding your body well, exercise is the key to health. 

I know, I know, you’re too busy.  The kids need help with their homework.  The dog needs a haircut.  Season 2 of This is Us has just been be released on Netflix.  I get it.  Unfortunately, your physical body doesn’t care about This Is Us, it doesn’t care that Junior isn’t quite getting what the Pythagorean theorem is all about, and it definitely doesn’t care that Rover resembles a woolly mammoth more than a dog.  Your body needs to move.  Period. 

Just look at it from your body’s perspective – the benefits far outweigh the pain.   Benefits, as they relate to breast health, include:

  • maintaining a healthy weight and body fat percentage (FYI, fat cells store high levels of estrogen which is a breast cancer risk factor)

  • decreasing estrogen levels in your body (less estrogen = lower breast cancer risk)

  • strengthening your immune system (a stronger immune system allows your body to better identify and destroy breast cancer cells as they form) 

  • providing stress relief (researchers believe that stress can speed up cancer progression)

Now isn’t that worth Rover resembling a wild furry beast?  I think so.

How much exercise is enough, you ask?  A 2012 study indicates that as little as 30 minutes of physical activity per day “at any intensity level during the reproductive and postmenopausal years may have the greatest benefit for reducing the risk of breast cancer”.[1] 

The Canadian Cancer Society supports this in its recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate daily activity.   

If you want to be even more specific, the American Cancer Society suggests one aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (or a combination thereof) preferably spaced throughout the week.  Moderate can include brisk walking, gardening or cycling and vigorous can include running, fast dance classes, soccer or another exercise that gets your heart rate up and works up a sweat.

Surely, one can find 30 minutes a day to get moving.  Here’s a thought, hit the local mall and go bra shopping!

Conclusion

So do we really need bras?  In the interest of breast health, I say hell no!  However, there are a lot of factors that play into one’s comfort level in completely tossing this restrictive device out the window.  So if you’re not quite there or don’t buy into the concept that bras are not necessarily our friends, I get it. However, err on the side of caution and definitely ditch the underwire, get sized properly, and get moving (this one benefits your entire body).

If you do decide to give the Girls a bit of extra freedom, start slow.  At home and on the weekends.  Running errands.  Driving the kids to school or walking the dog.  These are the only breasts that you have.  As I said, err on the side of caution.  As wonderful as reconstruction is, it is hands down better to not to go down that path at all. 

We haven’t even scratched the surface of healthy lifestyle and nutrition and how that affects our breasts, but that too can be saved for another post.  In the meantime, do your best to take care of your breasts and they’ll take care of you! 

As always, today’s choices create tomorrow’s results.

Best,

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P.S. I couldn’t resist today’s recipe with my favourite cancer-fighting food… broccoli sprouts! Enjoy!

[1]           McCullough, Lauren E. et al. “Fat or Fit: The Joint Effects of PA, Weight Gain, and Body Size on Breast Cancer Risk.” Cancer 118.19 (2012): 4860–4868. PMC. Web. 27 Sept. 2018.

Curried Egg Salad Sandwich
with Broccoli Sprouts

6     hard-boiled eggs
1/3  cup (75 mL) plain low-fat yogurt
1     tsp (5 mL) curry powder
1     medium red bell pepper, diced
2     green onions, chopped
1     celery stalk, thinly sliced
2     tbsp (30 mL) fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
8     slices rye bread
1     cup (250 mL) broccoli sprouts
1     tomato, thinly sliced

In a large bowl, mash eggs with the back of a fork. Mix in yogurt, curry, red pepper, green onions, celery, dill, salt and pepper. Divide mixture among four slices of bread and top with sprouts, tomato slices and remaining bread. Slice sandwiches in half and serve.

Serves four. Per serving: 322 calories, 18 g protein, 11 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 38 g carbohydrates, 6 g fibre, 319 mg cholesterol, 542 mg sodium

Source:  https://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-eats/healthy-eating/3-breast-cancer-fighting-recipes/

References: 

https://pathology.jhu.edu/breast/basics/overview

https://www.maurerfoundation.org/how-to-reduce-your-risk-of-breast-cancer-with-exercise/

 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448867/

 https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings/stress-fact-sheet?redirect=true

 http://www.cancer.ca/en/prevention-and-screening/reduce-cancer-risk/make-healthy-choices/move-more-sit-less/how-much-physical-activity-should-adults-get-daily/?region=on

 https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/acs-guidelines-nutrition-physical-activity-cancer-prevention/summary.html