How often do you think about your breasts? Probably more than you’d care to admit. And when you do, chances are you’re focused more on how they look—hoping they were bigger, smaller, perkier, or fill in the blank—instead of how healthy they are. So regardless of how your breasts make you feel—feminine, athletic, sexy, insecure—the fact remains that we all need to focus more time and attention to what’s happening beneath the surface (in the glands, tissue and ducts).
But how do you pay more attention to something you can’t actually see?
“Well, for starters, you practice healthy, proactive behaviors that help to prevent breast cancer, while also promoting overall health,” says Dr. Debra Miller, an oncologist with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute Suburban Hematology-Oncology Associates in Lawrenceville and Hamilton Mill. "This includes everything from eating anti-cancer foods (i.e. fruits and veggies, fiber-rich foods, and those with flavonoids and carotenoids), to drinking water and getting in daily activity."
These health-filled behaviors are just half of the equation, though. There are also a surprising number of everyday things that may impact your breast health more than you thought. So, for the sake of your girls, make sure you’re mindful of these 7 things:
- Wearing the wrong bra. “First things first, though, let’s be clear that wearing the wrong bra doesn’t cause breast cancer,” emphasizes Dr. Miller. But that doesn’t mean you should continue wearing ill-fitting bras—which is the case for nearly 80% of women.
“Even though it seems harmless enough, wearing bras that are too small can restrict blood flow and lead to breast discomfort,” explains Dr. Miller. “On the other hand, wearing bras that are too big, or aren’t supportive, especially while exercising, can lead to a breakdown of connective tissue in your breasts and breast laxity.”
- Sleeping on your side or stomach. Even though the common saying may be to sleep like a log, a majority of Americans prefer to snuggle up in a side- or stomach-sleeping position.
“However, it’s important to note that sleeping on your stomach—with your chest pressed against the mattress for hours—is tough on your breasts,” notes Dr. Miller. And let’s not forget the effects of side sleeping as well, this can cause your breast ligaments to stretch over time.
- Having a daily drink. If you stick to the recommended 1-drink-per-day rule, then you don’t necessarily have cause for concern here. However, if you’re drinking 2, 3 or more glasses of red wine in the name of getting ample resveratrol, it’s time to cut back.
“That’s because drinking 2-3 alcoholic beverages daily can increase your breast cancer risk by as much as 20%,” emphasizes Dr. Miller. “Plus, it’s not doing your liver, pancreas or blood pressure any favors, and can increase your risk for other cancers, too.”
- Removing hairs. Believe it or not, hairs can grow just about anywhere on your body—including your breasts.
“Now as tempting as it may be to remove any solo hairs that pop-up, it’s important to resist the urge as tweezing, pulling or waxing hair from that highly-sensitive area may cause inflammation, irritation or ingrown hairs,” says Dr. Miller. “Plus you may notice the development of reactive nodules or lymph nodes as well.”
So if you see a new hair, remember that it’s completely natural and leave it be, or reach out to a dermatologist to help safely remove it.
- Smoking. Given how bad smoking is all-around, you probably could’ve guessed that it’d be high up on the list of things to avoid when it comes to breast health.
“But it isn’t just the fact that smoking increases your risk of lung cancer, heart disease and a host of other conditions, it’s also the fact that smoking promotes breast tenderness and increases your risk of breast cancer,” explains Dr. Miller.
Oh, and let’s not forget that it can lead to premature breast sagging, thanks to a decrease in elastin.
- Consuming caffeine. There are a bunch of perks that daily cup of Joe offers—increased alertness, boosted energy and improved mood—but there are a few drawbacks as well.
“For instance, if you’re a routine coffee drinker—or caffeine of any kind for that matter—you may be more likely to experience breast pain and tenderness due to cyst formation” notes Dr. Miller.
Maybe it’s time to switch to herbal tea instead?
- Skipping the one-on-one time. No, we aren’t talking about alone time between you and significant other. Instead, we’re talking about taking some time each month for you and your breasts. As silly as it may sound, it’s important to take this time to do routine checks to monitor for any changes or abnormalities.
“Remember, you may be the first one to detect any changes in your breasts,” notes Dr. Miller. “Plus, studies have shown that applying pressure to your breasts can help to stimulate lymphatic blood flow, while also preventing the growth of cancer cells.”
In the event that you do find something abnormal—whether it’s a growth or lump, an abnormal sensation, changes to the texture or appearance of your skin or nipple—it’s essential to find expert care. And because cancer isn’t just a physical condition—it’s mental, emotional and social—cancer care shouldn’t just treat the physical symptoms. That’s why Northside Hospital Cancer Institute offers every patient multi-faceted care to make every step of the cancer-healing journey a success.