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Bringing awareness to breast cancer prevention

For most of us, October brings to mind the brown and golden hues
associated with fall leaves, or the black and orange decorations that appear in the days before Halloween. However, for many people, pink is another important color to take note of during the month. That’s because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when pink ribbons are adorned by scores of people impacted by the disease.

Started by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the pink ribbon is now used across the world to connote breast cancer awareness and support.

And that is a good thing. The American Cancer Society reports that nearly 227,000 women have been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. Second only skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women in the United States, with 1 in 8 women being diagnosed annually. Awareness is the key to putting a stop to the disease.

Risk factors

What can we do to prevent breast cancer? According to Charity Edwardson, an oncology nurse at St. Alphonsus Hospital, there are some risk factors associated with breast cancer that cannot be controlled. These include things such as age, gender, family history, and race. Being a female is the most significant risk factor for developing breast cancer.

Now for the good news. According to Edwardson, there are several risk factors can be controlled.

Exercise: While it may be hard to find the time and motivation, everyone should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 45 to 60 minutes of physical exercise 5 or more days a week. If motivation is a challenge, find a facility, like the HRYMCA, with scheduled exercise courses and commit yourself to one you find interesting. As always, if you are just getting started, be sure to ask your doctor whether it is OK.

Weight: Being overweight can cause many health problems, including an increased risk of breast cancer. This is especially true for women after menopause. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor to discuss strategies for losing weight. Even losing just a few pounds can significantly reduce your risk.

Diet: While the verdict is out on what specific foods increase risk, studies have shown that a diet low in red meat and other animal fats (including dairy fat), can decrease risk. Edwardson recommends a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

Alcohol consumption: Studies show that breast cancer risk increases with the amount of alcohol a woman drinks. A general guideline is to limit alcohol to one drink per day.

Early detection

Remember, even if risk factors are avoided, it is still important for all women to get regular screenings. This is especially important for those over 40 or those with a family history of breast cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control, having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer significantly.

And, while the verdict is out on self-exams, most medical professionals, including Edwardson, still support them. The general consensus is that if something feels wrong, you shouldn’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about it.

Join the cause

Even if you haven’t been affected by breast cancer personally, odds are that somebody in your life has been or will be. And, while October is coming to a close, help is needed all year. For ideas on how you can become involved in helping to find a cure, visit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website at http://ww5.komen.org.

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