“You Have Breast Cancer…”
The diagnosis can change a woman’s life forever. For many women, there are few scarier words. Women who must face breast cancer are also faced with the fear of losing their breasts, their sexuality, and possibly their lives. If women are going to win the battle against breast cancer, it is important they understand the disease.
What is breast cancer?
Cancer develops when there is a radical and uncontrollable growth of immature cells that do not behave normally. Every cell in the human body contains DNA which dictates cell function. The information in breast cells is the same information as in every other cell. Expressing the information in a cell requires a very delicate and exact process. Any small abnormality in the DNA can wreak havoc causing major problems in normal growth, development and health.
There are two events directly correlated with the development of cancer. First, DNA is damaged by free radicals and second, the cells containing the damaged DNA begin to replicate. Free radicals are essentially oxygen cells that are missing an electron due the negative effect of an environmental toxin. They develop as a result of exposure to cigarette smoke, pollutants, heavy metals, food additives, solvents, and/or pesticides. These are just some of the culprits responsible for the high rate of breast cancer in the United States.
If DNA damage occurs, the human body has the ability to repair the damage and thereby prevent further damage. In addition, antioxidants from our diet can also repair the free radical by replacing the missing oxygen electron. For the most part a damaged cell lies dormant and never replicates. However, cancer develops when the damaged cells start to replicate very quickly and then alter themselves so they are no longer a normal cell but something unrecognizable as part of the human body. They begin live longer while continually multiplying. This process is termed, ‘proliferation and growth’.
Identifying the risks can help you make changes in your life or influence pro-active decisions regarding your health.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
1. Starting menses at an age of less than 12 years old.
2. Being greater than 30 years old when giving birth for the first time.
3. Not reaching menopause until greater than age 55.
4. Having a family history of breast cancer.
5. Heavy alcohol use.
7. An imbalance in estrogen and/or progesterone levels.
8. A lump in the breast requiring biopsy.
There is significant evidence that there are some controllable risk factors associated with breast cancer. While there is no guarantee that adhering to preventative measures will eradicate any chance of developing this disease, there are some lifestyle changes aimed at reducing your risk.
1. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Studies show weight gain, especially after menopause, can increase the risk for breast cancer.
2. Incorporate whole soy foods into your diet. It is important to understand the difference between whole soy foods such as tofu, miso or edamame, and foods that contain processed soy as they contain isoflavones that can imitate estrogen which may have a negative effect on breast cancer cells.
3. Breastfeeding can reduce your exposure to estrogen and therefore reduce your risk. Some studies show that breast-fed girls are also at a lowered risk for developing breast cancer.
4. Avoid environmental pollutants if possible. While this might be very difficult, simply being cognizant of air quality may result in lesser exposure.
5. Test your genes. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, you may want to get a genetics test to see if you are at risk as well.
6. Breast Exams and Early Detection. Do self breast exams regularly and get a mammogram. Early detection is your best defense against disease. The American Cancer Society recommends getting a Clinical Breast Exam every three years for women in their 20s and 30s. Women in their 40s and older should get a Clinical Breast Exam and a mammogram once a year.
Breast cancer has claimed the lives of women old and young, black and white, rich and poor, famous and non-famous. It has taken sisters, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and friends. The losses have left women living in the fear of developing the disease themselves. While taking steps to reduce your risk will not guarantee that you will avoid the disease, following them can minimize your risk and will improve you overall health and well-being.
Brenda Pavlic is a nationally certified pharmacy technician and co-owner of SaveWay Compounding Pharmacy in Newark, DE. With more than twenty-five years of pharmacy experience she has furthered her career with extensive training and education in Pharmacy Compounding, Women’s Health, Cosmeceutics, Pain Management, Aseptic and Veterinary Compounding. She has published articles and presented seminars both locally and nationally to healthcare practitioners. Her experience and education provide her with skills needed to develop formulations that ease medication administration, improve compliance and ultimately result in positive outcomes for patients.