What can I do to protect myself from breast cancer?
There are several ways women can help reduce their risk of breast cancer, but doctors emphasize there are no guarantees. Studies have shown, however, that women whose diets are rich in fruits, vegetables and soy products, and low in fats are less likely to develop breast cancer than those whose diets do not include an abundance of such foods.But there are exceptions to all scientific findings. Breast cancer has occurred in vegetarians and those who adhere to the tenets of the government’s food pyramid just as it has in those whose diets are less than ideal. Nevertheless, studies that have focused on the benefits of exercise also have shown a lower risk of the disease in women who participate regularly in some form of physical activity.
There is no evidence that any foods, such as foods to which you might have allergies, are linked to breast cancer. There is, however, a compelling body of evidence hypothesizing that pan-fried, barbecued, flame-broiled or charred meats are associated with an increased risk of the disease. Researchers caution that it is not the meat that increases the risk but the chemical combustion products of high-heat cooking. These studies are in no way definitive, but do provide scientists with a new lead about a potential cause of breast cancer.
- Are there vitamins that are helpful?
There is suggestive evidence that vitamins A, C and E may play a protective role. These vitamins are abundant in fruits, vegetables and nuts. While preliminary studies have produced evidence that vitamin E may help prevent prostate cancer in men, no such studies have been conducted showing any such insurance against breast cancer.
- Why is soy so important?
Soy contains an abundant amount of phytochemicals, which are believed to help protect against breast cancer. Much of the evidence that suggests this comes from comparative studies of breast cancer incidence in Western and Asian countries. In Japan and China, where soy products play a prime role in the diet, breast cancer incidence is low. In the United States and most European countries, the incidence is relatively high and soy does not play a prime role in the diet. Increasingly, doctors are suggesting to their patients that they include more soy in their diets to help protect against breast cancer.
- What else can I do?
Doctors and the American Cancer Society recommend monthly breast self-exams and periodic mammograms for women 40 and older. A manual examination by a physician is also recommended. Self-exams help detect small tumors. However, doctors point out that a tumor that can be felt is significantly larger than one imaged through mammography.
- What does a tumor feel like?
There is no single configuration a tumor assumes. However, some women report palpating a thickening in the breast. Others say their tumor had a gravel-like feel. Often there is no pain associated with a tumor, but that is not true in every case.