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Be Breast Aware

Welcome to October, and let us join the world in celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness. Do not be surprised to see pink ribbons, products and promotions in every direction. It is saddening but no longer shocking when we find out that someone near and dear to us has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Malaysia – 1 in 30 will be diagnosed in their lifetime. Despite this high prevalence, Malaysian women are indifferent about their breast health. Few routinely check for abnormalities or undertake annual screenings. The earlier it is diagnosed, the greater the chance of cure and the better the outcome. The earlier you diagnose a sinister breast lump, the smaller the size of the tumour and the lesser the chance of spread. Unfortunately, breast health is still under-discussed; many are too modest or embarrassed to educate themselves on self-examination or submit themselves for routine screening.

It is my desire to educate and support fellow women by raising awareness on breast health. I shall highlight 3 breast health facts that every woman should be aware of.

Many women fail to wear the right bra size

It is estimated that eight out of 10 women are wearing incorrect bras sizes!

A bra that is too tight can cause breast pain. A tight bra will also bite into the ribcage and hurt the back, causing backache and discomfort. The neck and shoulders are also not spared if a bra is too tight. The tight straps will chaff the shoulders and pull on the neck muscles. Therefore, a tight bra will affect one’s posture, encouraging the wearer to hunch forwards to bring about relief. This further hurts the neck, shoulders and back.

The breasts, like any organ, have lymphatic drainage. Lymphatic vessels are very thin, and they’re easily prone to pressure and compression. Excessive and repeated pressure on the nodes in the breasts (such as from a bra that’s too small) can cause lymph valves and vessels to close. Wearing a bra with a cup size smaller than it should be, interferes with blood circulation and lymph drainage. This can set the stage for breast disease, and may trigger breast cancer.

On the other hand, wearing a loose bra is also unhealthy; there is little support for delicate breast tissue. A loose bra with ill-fitting cups can stretch the delicate tissue of your breasts prematurely. Instead of lifting them up and maintaining a feminine shape, such a bra will promote sagging and make the breasts look heavy.

Lingerie stores and many department stores have bra fit specialists to help you. Use breast cancer awareness month as motivation to invest in one or two good bras – this can make a world of difference to your breast health.

Show yourself some love, examine yourself monthly…

The best time to do a self-breast exam is a few days after your period ends. If you are pregnant or nursing and don't have a period, just check on the same day of the month each month.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Look at your breasts in the mirror, first with your hands on your hips and then with your hand up in the air.

  2. Feel your breasts while you are standing. This is easiest to do in the shower when they are a bit slippery. How you feeling them is up to you, just make sure you cover the whole breast (including the breast tissue that's in your armpit). Many women like to start at the nipple and move outward in concentric circles until they have covered the whole breast.

  3. Lay down and feel your breasts. Lay on your back, and place one hand behind your head. Use the other hand to check the breast in the same way as above.

Talk to your doctor if:

· You find or notice a lump or bump

· You see swelling anywhere near your breast, armpit or collarbone

· There are changes to the skin around your nipple

· You notice warmth or itching

· Or notice pus, blood or other liquid leaking from your nipple (other than breastmilk)

It is ok to check even if you are unsure of what you felt or found

Arm yourself with the bare facts…

All of us have risk factors of developing a certain health condition. With regard to breast cancer, here are some irreversible risk factors:

  • Being female

  • Getting older

  • Family history of breast cancer

  • Having breast cancer in the past

  • First menstrual period earlier than age 12

  • First baby delivered after the age of 30

  • Never giving birth

  • Chest exposure to radiation during your childhood or youth

And here are some risk factors you can work on:

  • Your weight – the heavier you are the greater your risk.

  • Limit alcohol use

  • Cease smoking

  • Exercise regularly

  • Have your first child before age 30, if possible

  • Breastfeed, if possible

There is no need to be overly stressed, but do undertake monthly self-breast exams and discuss with your family doctor about prevention and routine screening.

Using oral contraceptive pills, IUDs and synthetic hormones also increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer. If you are on long term family-planning devices or pills, do talk to your doctor on your risks.

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