Your Breast Health Checklist for the New Year
In the midst of setting New Year’s resolutions, it’s important to emphasize health as an inspiration for the goals on your list. Taking care of your health, specifically breast health, should be an intentional focus you’re dedicated to year-round. Use this checklist to help you prioritize better breast health in 2024, and the years to follow.
Practice Breast Self-Exams
When you regularly check your breasts and become familiar with how they look and feel, you’ll be better equipped to notice when changes occur. Breast self-exams don’t replace the need for mammograms and aren’t as effective at screening for breast cancer, but they are an accessible tool to utilize often for your breast health. So, how often should you do a breast self-exam? These exams are the most beneficial when done routinely, so aim for about once a month. If you notice a lump or other change during a breast self-exam, you should make an appointment with your doctor so they can take a closer look and send you for any additional screenings and imaging tests needed to determine what’s going on.
Schedule a Mammogram
Annual mammograms are the best tool for early detection of breast cancer, and most cancers detected by mammography have no symptoms. It’s recommended that women should begin mammograms regularly at age 40. Scheduling your annual mammogram can make a significant difference in breast cancer early detection.
Know your Breast Density
Knowing if you have dense breasts influences how you approach breast cancer screening and early detection, ultimately impacting your overall breast health. Breast density refers to the composition of your breast tissue as seen on a mammogram, and is determined by the ratio of fibrous and glandular tissue to fatty tissue. Essentially, breasts can be categorized into four density levels based on how much of these different types of tissues are present. Women of any age and background can have dense breasts. Factors such as hormonal status like pregnancy and breastfeeding, body weight, and hormone replacement therapy can all influence breast density. The four breast density levels include:
Almost entirely fatty: This means that the breasts have a higher proportion of fatty tissue and a lower proportion of dense tissue.
Some areas of scattered density: This indicates that some regions of increased density are scattered throughout the breast.
Evenly dense: This means the breast tissue has a fairly uniform density throughout.
Extremely dense: In this category, the breasts have a high proportion of dense fibrous and glandular tissue.
Have a Breast Cancer Risk Assessment
If you're under 40, it's recommended to have a breast cancer risk assessment by age 25. This assessment, especially for Black women and women of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, helps identify individuals with a higher risk for the disease and may warrant earlier screening. Assessments like this will help you gain knowledge about your breast health and any potential risks of developing breast cancer.
Exercise can help reduce your risk of breast cancer and improve your overall health. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Eat a Healthy and Balanced Diet
Incorporating healthy eating habits inclusive of a diet rich in essential vitamins and nutrients found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains can help reduce your risk of breast cancer. It’s also important to avoid processed and high-fat foods and limit your alcohol consumption.
Limit Exposure to Environmental Toxins
There are a variety of environmental toxins that have a detrimental effect on your health including certain household cleaning products, non-stick cookware, plastic food storage containers, pesticides, and more. The toxins in these items have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and other cancers. Know what you’re consuming. Try to ditch the toxic chemicals and find a cleaner alternative for your breast health and overall well-being.
Always talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your breast health. They can help you develop a plan for maintaining optimal breast health.