How Healthy Are Your Breasts?
Pages in this Story:
- Why Your Breasts Hurt
- Culprit #1: You're about to get your period.
- Culprit #2: You've got fibrocystic breasts.
- Culprit #3: Your diet.
- Culprit #4: You're overdoing it at the gym.
- Culprit #5: Your meds.
- New Reasons to Get a Mammogram
- What to Do If You Find a Lump in Your Breast
- Straight Answers to Your Biggest Questions
Straight Answers to Your Biggest QuestionsQ. Does the size of my breasts affect my cancer risk?
A. It may. While all women should be diligent about screenings their doctor recommends, those with large breasts need to be particularly careful. A recent study of almost 90,000 women ages 29 to 47 found that lean women who are a D cup or larger were 80 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who were smaller-chested. "The bigger your bust, the more breast cells you have. This may increase your odds for having a potential mutation or malignant change," says study author Karin B. Michels, PhD, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School.Q. One of my breasts is bigger than the other. Should I be worried?
A. No, don't panic. "There are many other risk factors -- like being overweight or sedentary -- that are much more significant," says Gabriel Hortobagyi, MD. British researchers who compared the mammograms of 252 women who developed breast cancer to a similar group who didn't found that the relative odds of getting the disease went up 50 percent for each 3.38 ounces of breast-size difference. But the experts we spoke to put that statistic in context: "The study specifically looked at women who went to a special breast center for mammograms, which suggests they already had risk factors such as a lump," explains Dr. Hortobagyi. "If the researchers had taken a more random survey of women with asymmetrical breasts, it's likely the results would have been quite different."Q. Is it really a big deal if I don't do a breast self-exam every month?
A. Although the American Cancer Society considers self-exams optional, most experts still strongly advise doing them. "It's important to become familiar with the way your breasts look and feel so you can identify any changes," says Larry Norton, MD. "The more effectively a woman examines her breasts, the more likely she is to tell the difference between normal bumpiness and a potentially cancerous lump. I've seen patients who got regular physical examinations and mammograms but still discovered a serious lump themselves." Perform your monthly self-exam during the first few days after your period, when your breasts are less likely to be lumpy and sore from hormonal changes. To do it, lie down with your right arm behind your head and use the pads of your three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in your right breast. Move in an up-and-down pattern starting from the side of your underarm and work your way across the breast to the middle of the chest bone. Repeat on the other side. If you feel a lump and you're premenopausal, wait a couple of weeks to see if it disappears on its own, advises Dr. Hortobagyi. If it doesn't go away, or you're postmenopausal, make an appointment with your physician right away.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2006.
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