Breast cancer information is everywhere and is ever-present in the mind of today’s woman because of what a diagnosis could mean to her life. Every woman understands the importance of breast self-examinations in order to catch signs of breast cancer in its earliest stages and of having annual physical checkups with her primary health care provider to ensure she hasn’t missed anything. An annual checkup also gives a woman the opportunity to discuss whether or not having a mammogram is right for her. Over and above annual checkups, any time you have questions or concerns, always consult with your primary health care provider and get the answers you need right away. To read the full article on breast cancer on our main website, CLICK HERE.
Over and above breast cancer, there are other health issues which can affect breast tissue, most of which are non-cancerous but could, to some degree, be worrisome if not fully understood. Let’s take a look at a few.
FBC is not a specific disease, nor is it cancer, but rather an umbrella term that illustrates a range of changes that can take place in the glandular and stromal (supporting) tissues of the breast. It is generally felt in the upper outer region and the underside of the breast. A fibrocystic breast may exhibit symptoms such as cysts (closed, fluid-filled sac embedded in tissue), fibrosis (an increase in fibrous connective tissue, i.e., scar tissue), and/or lumps or areas of thickening/hardening.
Women who have FBC may experience what is known as cyclical tenderness and/or pain; pain which is related to the way breast tissue responds to monthly changes in a woman’s body (hormonal swings, water retention). This type of pain generally goes away after menopause however some types of hormone replacement therapy may prolong this symptom.
Simple Cysts & Fibroadenomas
While sometimes unpleasant to live with, self-care is generally the prescription involving solutions such as wearing a supportive bra (sometimes even at night), avoiding caffeine and salt (water retention), eating a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables, applying heat/ice to the affected area and supplementing with vitamin E (healing scar tissue), vitamin B6 (aids in relieving water retention), niacin (improves circulation and helps with inflammation). Occasionally, if a lump is causing serious problems or pain, it can be surgically removed. If your doctor requires you to have a mammogram, fibrocystic breasts can make it more difficult to detect what’s actually going on in the breast. In this case, you would have an ultrasound rather than the usual mammogram.
According to the American Cancer Society, fibrocystic breasts affect at least half of all women at some point in their lives. You should bring any changes in your breasts to the attention of your primary health care provider immediately so that they can be further investigated.
While finding a lump in your breast can be worrying until it is confirmed benign, simple cysts are simply the accumulation of fluid in the breast into a hard lump. They feel like smooth, rounded, moveable lumps under the skin. Most women only develop one or two, but in some cases, multiple cysts may appear, sometimes located deep within the breast tissue.
These little annoyances can come and go in concert with a woman’s monthly cycle, showing up a week or two before her period and disappearing afterwards. Existing cysts can become exacerbated by hormone replacement therapy. The medical community is not quite sure what causes simple cysts like these to appear although one school of thought theorizes that caffeine consumption is linked to their formation.
Your primary health care provider may send you for an ultrasound to pinpoint what is going on. Once determined as a simple cyst, it is left alone. How do they tell it’s a simple cyst? It’s, well, simple. These types of benign cysts are well-defined and have distinct borders. Any other type of cyst found will usually be referred on to the doctor for further investigation. Simple cysts which cause considerable discomfort can be drained, collapsing them and reducing the discomfort.
Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS)
Fibroadenomas are benign breast tumors which, like cysts, are round and tend to have borders which are distinct from the surrounding tissue. They often feel like a marble under the skin, although some lie deep within the breast tissue and cannot be detected by palpation (felt by touch). They generally remain small but can grow to be considerably larger than a marble. Some women may only have one while other women may have several. Fibroadenomas are dealt with in the same manner as cysts; via aspiration (collapsing them by drawing out the fluid with a very fine needle). It’s very unlikely that fibroadenomas are dealt with using surgery as this involves removing some of the surrounding breast tissue and can lead to complications.
Mastitis is a painful condition involving a cracking of the skin around the nipple and generally affects women who are breastfeeding. Bacteria enter the breast duct through the cracks on the skin and produce an area of inflammation. As your body releases substances to fight the infection, it also causes swelling of the breast tissue and increased circulation to the area. This leaves the breast swollen, red in color, warm and painful to the touch. Mastitis is treated like any other bacterial infection; with antibiotics.
When abnormal cells grow inside the lobules of the breast, but have not spread to the nearby tissue or beyond, the condition is called Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS). The term “in situ” means “in place”. With LCIS, the abnormal cells are still “in place” inside the lobules. Although the term LCIS includes the word “carcinoma”, LCIS is not invasive breast cancer. LCIS has been considered a risk factor for breast cancer, but not a precursor.1
Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer
At every turn, breast cancer information about the disease itself is readily available to us from many very credible sources, so let’s take a look not at the condition itself but how you can reduce your risk of having breast cancer. In this day and age, science has definitely shown us that, other than genetics, there are some recognizable lifestyle choices which can leave you vulnerable to an increased risk of breast cancer. In order to avoid this, simply living well is the key.
Maintain a healthy body weight for your height and age – You can use a BMI calculation to figure this out but a more appropriate way to figure out your ideal weight for your height, age, muscle-fat ratio, sex and bone density, might be to consult with your health care provider. Some people can carry a little extra weight and not have it adversely affect their health. However, the older you get, the less likely this becomes as conditions such as arthritis weave their way into your existence. Carrying extra weight becomes a problem for your body when arthritis, back problems, bone density issues, and other age-related conditions show up. At this point, it’s healthier to lose a little more weight to “lighten the load” for your body and bones. Also, the more weight you carry, the more likely you are to open yourself up to other health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular issues.
Postmenopausal women who are overweight have a 30 to 60 percent higher breast cancer risk than those who are lean. Being overweight after menopause may increase the risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers more than estrogen receptor-negative cancers. A meta-analysis that combined the results of four studies found postmenopausal women who were heavy had a 70 percent great risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer compared to those who were lean. 2
Eat a more balanced diet – Eating a well- balanced diet which includes a wide variety of foods means that your body is more than likely to get all the nutrients it needs on a daily basis to keep you running in tip-top, fighting condition and less likely to succumb to conditions such as breast cancer. A balanced diet should include at least three cups of fruits and vegetables every day and also consist of choices from whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and “good” fats (not trans or saturated). Vitamin D, K, folic acid, and calcium should be on the list of supplements you take every day.
Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day and choose red wine. Red wine contains a healthy polyphenol called “resveratrol”; a type of polyphenol called a phytoalexin, a class of compounds produced as part of a plant’s defense system against disease. It is produced in the plant in response to an invading fungus, stress, injury, infection, or ultraviolet irradiation. Red wine contains high levels of resveratrol, as do grapes, raspberries, and peanuts.3
Get physical every day – Including physical exercise in your daily routine helps burn extra calories and may help lower the risk of breast cancer. Why? Exercise lowers estrogen levels, fights obesity, lowers insulin levels and boosts the function of immune system cells that attack tumors. Include 30 minutes per day of moderate daily exercise (you need to break a sweat). Do what you enjoy most however, if you’ve been inactive for some time, consult with your health care provider to make sure there are no physical or biological barriers that would preclude you from exercising. A simple, beginner’s yoga class is generally a good place to start.
Quit smoking and according to the recommendations of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals.
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast Cancer Society of Canada
The Five Steps of a Breast Self-Exam
Breast Cancer, National Library of Medicine