Remember how when we were younger, we would bet on things and to make it more authentic, make it a pinkie swear :D. Those were the days when we didn’t have too many issues to contend with…though it did seem like we had a lot on our plates then! So I smile when my children say, ‘mum, you can’t be more tired than we are; we had to go to school, do tests, then school work, then home work at home and then we still have some chores to do!. The world is certainly not fair’. How do I begin to explain to them that I have to go to work, then do grocery shopping on the way, school run, get dinner ready, supervise their homework, listen to them whine 🙂 and then still do some school work myself?! Oh, whatever happened to, ‘the higher you go, the cooler it becomes’? Someone clearly sold us a dummy! Anyways, I digress.
How many of you would swear to do whatever it takes to be healthy, live as many years as possible in perfect health of mind and body? How many would swear to work out everyday knowing that even 30 mins of exercise everyday cuts your risk of a lot of diseases including cancer? How many would reduce their alcohol intake knowing that it reduces their chances of a lot of ailments? We could go on!
It is with these questions in mind that we turn to the disease represented by the colour pink…breast cancer. Angelina Jolie made headlines last week when she announced that she had a high risk of breast cancer and decided to take action to reduce her risk. This involved double mastectomy…which in simple everyday English means cutting off both her breasts!!! A small pause here for all that to sink in….
Note that she didn’t have cancer, a lump, any change in breast size or contour to suggest that something funny was going on. She just had a gene that meant she was more at risk of having breast cancer than other people. So she decided to do something about it. This sounds like common sense and appears to even follow biblical injunctions to cut off any part of your body that causes you to sin, right? It sounds like everybody should know this…’in fact why make a big fuss about it; I’d do the same!’ But here’s the thing, a lot of us prefer to live in denial. We KNOW we have a family history of hypertension, but do we check our blood pressure always…NO. Some of us know we’ve undertaken some risky sex behaviour, do we screen for STIs and HIV…NO. After all, it’s better not to know, right? Wrong.
People, I’m about to utter some earth shattering mind bogging amazing news right now: ignorance is not bliss! In fact it is the not-knowing that constitutes a problem and puts more people at risk. It is for this same reason that breast and other cancers that can be detected pretty early go undetected until the final stages when little or nothing can be done because people do not want to get screened, preferring not to know. This is sad!
There are pre-disposing factors for breast cancer. These factors are things, conditions or situations that affect your chances of getting breast cancer. However having even two of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will have cancer; in fact people with no risk factors have been known to have cancer. The point however is that if any of the risk factors are present, then one should be sure to reduce that risk by focusing on preventive strategies discussed here.
The risk factors for breast cancer include things that you don’t really have much control over like:
Your sex: women are more likely to have this disease than men.
Your age: the risk of this cancer increases with age.
Race or ethnicity: white women are more pre-disposed to breast cancer, but black people are more likely to die of the complications of breast cancer.
Your genes: about 5 to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary resulting from inherited defective genes. These cancers are found in even young women where they may affect both breasts.
Family history of breast cancer: if a member of your family has suffered from this disease, you have a higher risk of it.
Personal history of breast cancer: the risk of this disease increases if one has had this disease in the past.
Women who have had a lot of menstrual cycles because their menstrual cycles started early and stopped later in life, around 55 years.
Previous radiation therapy to the chest also increases risk.
Other associations that have been made with breast cancer and increase the risk of having the disease include:
- Women who have had no children or had their first child after the age of 30 years.
- Women using oral contraceptive pills
- Breast feeding has been found to be protective of breast cancer. So ladies, kindly breast feed those little ones.
- The use of alcohol has been very clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Follow the daily limits that we have advised on previous posts.
- Being overweight or obese after menopause increases the risk
- Lack of physical activity has also been incriminated.
So, do you give your word today to do something about these risk factors if they are under your control, pinkie swear? Or are you going to keep hiding your head in the sand? It doesn’t mean danger is not lurking round the corner, it just means you don’t know when it hits you over the head with a big bang.
Do a self breast exam every day…it’s not too much. There are multiple online materials that teach you exactly how to do this. If you feel a lump, nodule, swelling…anything you’re uncomfortable about, see your doctor. Better safe than sorry. Look at yourself in the mirror, naked. You know what your breasts normally look like; if they change shape, colour, contour or your nipples start to look different or give strange discharges, see a doctor…today and not tomorrow. Once you hit 40, get a mammogram done once every two years (some authorities say from age 50. Ask your doctor what works for you based on your risk profile). And if you can afford it, get gene tested for breast cancer. You just might be buying more time and improving the quality of that time you have to spend with a family that loves you to bits.
Be healthy, people!
Here’s to a healthier you!