No matter how old you are, in order to keep your breasts healthy it helps to learn what’s normal and what’s not. It will definitely put you on the lookout for changes that could be the signs of trouble. Just like any part of your body, it’s important to find out what to expect at different stages of life. Knowing what your breasts look and feel like can help you recognize when something is suddenly different. The same way you take care of your skin and watch for new moles, you should pay attention to your breasts. Your doctor may give you a breast exam at your annual visit, and teach you how to do a self-exam on your own at home. Research doesn’t show that breast exams save lives or detect cancers earlier, but a great deal of doctors still recommends them. And it’s always a good idea to be aware of your body changes and let your doctor know if you notice any changes.
Normal breast changes during life
From adolescence to menopause, breast tissue is subject to the hormone changes associated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and lactation. Breast tissue can become more tender and lumpy just prior to a menstrual period and less tender and lumpy after a period. It is perfectly normal and quite common for breasts to be lumpy or have benign nodules. In the perimenopausal years, when women transition from regular periods to their final period (menopause), women often experience increased breast discomfort because of a change in hormone levels, which affects breast tissue. After menopause, the glandular tissue of the breast is largely replaced by fatty tissue.
What’s not normal?
Tell your doctor if you see any unusual changes. For instance, make an appointment if you notice:
- A firm lump you’ve never felt before
- Swelling around your breast, or armpit
- Dry, cracked, red, or thickened skin around your nipple
- Blood or fluid leaking from your nipples
- Warmth or itching in your breasts
It’s important to remember that your body’s immune system is able to recognize and destroy cancer cells in the right environment. Here are some health and lifestyle tips for creating healthy breasts:
- Get Enough Sleep. Sleep restores the body and it’s during sleep that our bodies metabolize stress hormones. Aim for 8 hours per night. Try your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Sleep in a dark room and turn off your cell phone and WiFi.
- Exercise regularly. The benefits of regular moderate exercise are numerous and research shows that physically active women have a decreased risk of cancer. You don’t have to join an expensive gym. Instead, keep it simple with activities that you will stick with such as walking with a friend or dancing to music in your home.
- Eat a healthy diet. Try to maintain a diet that keeps your insulin, estrogen and eicosanoids balanced. Include lean protein in every meal. Reduce or eliminate sugar, including alcohol and packaged foods. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Include a good source of iodine from food or as a supplement, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids. It is also well-documented that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer, even in small amounts. But, this fact doesn’t stop most women from enjoying a glass of wine regularly and for many this is not a problem. But, make sure to be careful and try to stick to these tips!
No matter your age, you can significantly lower your risk of breast cancer if you limit alcohol to one drink a day or less, quit smoking if you’ve got the habit, and stay at a healthy weight. It’s also important to get at least 200 minutes of moderate exercise a week and eat plenty of fruits and veggies. It’s never too early to start thinking about how to have healthy breasts for life!