We already know that breast cancer is one of the most common cancers amongst women in the world, and it is increasing. 

But the good news is that fewer women are dying from breast cancer than ever before.

In honour of all the brave survivors and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Selfmed has put together a few useful steps to ensuring that you get through the rest of the year incident free.

How dense are you?

One of the most effective ways to protect yourself is understanding how breast density plays a role in determining whether your tissue may carry potentially cancerous cells. In fact it is difficult to detect cancer on a mammogram when  you have more tissue than fat in your breasts, as both tumours and breast tissue show up white, while fatty tissue comes up dark.

Even if your breast density is low, you will still need regular check-ups. Ask your doctor about adding an MRI or ultrasound to your screening regimen.

Get moving

Whatever your status or condition, exercise is always key.

It doesn’t mean you have to sign up for Cape Town Marathon just yet. In fact, just half an hour brisk walk can reduce the risk of breast cancer tremendously. To reduce your risk almost entirely, aim for two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercises weekly.

Your family history can help you

A small percentage of all cancers, including breast cancer, are inherited from one generation to the next via a variety of mutated genes. Even men can carry some of the same abnormal genes that increase the risk of not only breast cancer, but also ovarian cancer in women, pancreatic cancer in men and women, and early prostate and testicular cancers in men.

The diagnoses on either side of your family can be a clue to a hereditary link, so make sure you take a look at second and third degree relatives too.

Watch your hormone replacement therapy

The Women’s Health Initiative found that managing menopausal symptoms, through long-term use of combined estrogen and progestin therapy, increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 24 percent.

If you don’t have a strong family history of breast cancer, you can still talk to your doctor about the use of hormone therapy to manage the unpleasant symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes. Your doctor will determine the smallest dose that will help, and you can take it for the shortest time possible.

Moms, have you considered breastfeeding?

Modern baby formulas have ‘outshined’ breastfeeding, simply because mothers don’t want their babies to become dependent. However, consistently breastfeeding for the first 6 months have less risk of death from cancer compared to women who don’t. Women don’t menstruate while breastfeeding, which lowers the amount of estrogen their bodies are exposed to.

So, yes, breastfeeding are best for baby, and mommy.

Your diet is vital

You are what you eat. Harvard researchers recently discovered that women who had the highest carotenoid levels in their blood, including lycopene and beta-carotene, had a lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels. Fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and red peppers contain vibrant pigments that act as antioxidants.

When it comes to alcohol, moderation is the order of the day. No more than one drink per day. It goes without saying.

Survivors never stop fighting

If you are a survivor, your fight should continue in the form of a healthy lifestyle. You should watch your eating habits, exercise frequently, maintain a healthy weight, and be vigilant about your screenings.

Consider seeing a genetic counselor to determine whether your breast cancer was linked to a mutation – which could mean your relatives might also be at risk of breast cancer, as well as other cancers.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout your life; lowering your risk of developing cancer, and improve your chances of surviving if it occurs. It is normal for women to focus on breast cancer after they’ve been diagnosed, but as a survivor, it’s important to remember other components of health.

Selfmed Medical Scheme is a South African medical aid that offers reliable medical aid cover to South Africans of all ages and health levels.

Since its inception in 1965, Selfmed has provided access to the highest quality healthcare to its members, and this, combined with excellent service and sincere advice, has made us one of the most experienced medical aids in South Africa.

For more information, visit www.selfmed.co.za