New evidence is emerging about breast cancer prevention. It may include lifestyle factors, such as eating a low-fat diet with lots of soy, exercising and taking drugs that may prove to have preventive qualities.
You should definitely make some of these healthy lifestyle changes to try to reduce your risk, but playing the odds is all you can do. There still is no known way to prevent the disease, not even a prophylactic mastectomy.
But you can greatly increase your chances of a cure or long-term survival by ensuring that you catch breast cancer at the earliest possible stage. In recent years, treatment advances for early-stage breast cancer have sharply reduced the death rate.
Three-Part Program for Early Detection
The experts say your best shot at early detection will come from practicing a three-part program:
- clinical breast exam
- screening mammograms
- breast self-examination
The frequency of clinical breast exams and mammograms depend on your age and other factors. But women can do breast self-exams (BSE) once a month, beginning in their teens or early 20s. Starting at a young age accomplishes several things. It gets women into the habit, familiarizes them with the feel of their breasts, and may provide early detection of breast cancer.
Do You Practice BSE?
Ironically, while most women do not practice monthly BSE, most breast lumps are found by women themselves. BSE is advised as part of an early detection program, even though it is never actually been proven to affect outcome.
Why don’t more women do BSE’s? In her book, “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book,” the author describes BSE as a fear-driven “search and destroy mission.” Although 80 percent of breast lumps turn out to be benign, Dr. Love believes that women approach BSE with a negative attitude, fearful that they will find what they are looking for — a breast lump.
Not that you should skip monthly BSE. If you are doing it regularly already, that is ideal. But if you are not, though you keep telling yourself you should, you might try Dr. Love’s alternative. Instead of the structured monthly BSE technique, she advocates touching your breasts frequently, at many different times of the month. In this way, she says women will get to know what their breasts are like and how they change.
Both monthly BSE and Dr. Love’s approach are means to the same end: early detection of breast cancer by becoming familiar with your breasts so that you can recognize any abnormal changes.