Be Your Own Breast Friend: Easy Steps to Reduce Your Cancer Risk

October 27, 2019

 

In October of 2018, Cocofloss co-founder Cat Cu was on a sunset run in San Francisco when she noticed that her right breast felt tender with each stride. Here’s her roller-coaster story: 

 

“At Cocofloss, we had just posted about the importance of breast self-checks to support Bright Pink, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer. So I pressed my breast where it hurt and I noticed a lump. I hoped that it was just a knotted muscle, but I went ahead and scheduled a mammogram. 

“Test results and a needle biopsy suggested that the lump was nothing to worry about. I was obviously relieved, but I still felt like something was off. Running was painful and my breast felt inflamed. So I sought a second opinion in January. 

“In February, at the age of 32, I received the mind-blowing news that I had a rare cancer. I’ve since undergone extremely thorough treatment to remove all traces of this deadly bugger. Self-screening and following my intuition saved my life!”

 

Cat’s journey shines light on this fact: When detected early, the five-year survival rate for breast and ovarian cancers can be greater than 92%!

Take charge of your own breast health with important tips from Bright Pink below or pop over to their website for more information. (And BTW, Cocofloss proudly donates $5 of every purchase of our 4-Piece Strawberry Shortcake Set to Bright Pink!)

 

 

Know Your Breasts’ Lumps and Bumps

Thanks to Cat’s own self-awareness, she was able to detect “that something was off” in her breast. But everybody’s breasts are different — different sizes and shapes, with various types of lumps that may come and go. What’s standard for you may not be your friend’s “normal.” 

Get to know the normal look and feel of your breasts by checking in with your body regularly.

Look at and touch your breast tissue from multiple angles with varying pressure to feel both the deep and surface layers, from the interior by your ribs to just below the skin. Don’t forget that your breast tissue extends up your collarbone, around to your armpits, and into your breastbone.

As Cat says, “Harmless lumps in breasts are common, but it’s always valuable to get any lumps and bumps screened to rule out cancer or to catch things as early as possible.”

Call your doc if any of these symptoms persist or worsen for two to three weeks:

  • Swelling, soreness, or rash
  • Warmth, redness, or darkening
  • Change in size or shape
  • Dimpling or puckering of skin
  • An itchy, scaly sore or rash on nipple
  • Nipple that becomes flat or inverted
  • Nipple discharge
  • New, persistent pain in one spot
  • Persistent itching
  • Bumps that resemble bug bites
  • A lump, particularly one that feels like a frozen pea

Text HEALTH to 59227 for monthly reminders from Bright Pink to check in with your breasts.

 

Be a “Well-Woman” 

Breast cancer affects about 1 in 8 women, making it the most common cancer diagnosis in women in the U.S. So see your doctor at least once a year for a “well-woman” exam, even when you feel perfectly healthy, to proactively manage your breast and ovarian health. 

Cat’s case points to how it important it is to stay in touch with your M.D., no matter your age. “Being diagnosed with a rare cancer has been a very sobering, humbling, and empathy-building experience,” she says. “I never would have imagined this would happen to me as a young, healthy 32-year-old yogi, though I now realize that cancer, and more generally, disease, is a universal human, and animal, experience.”

  

Say “Yes, Ma’am” to Mammograms

Since early cancer detection is key, talk to your health-care provider about starting mammograms at age 40. Your breast-health management plan should be personalized based on your specific risk level

For women with no family history or genetic predisposition:

  • Get an annual mammogram starting at 40. Bright Pink stands with most major medical associations and guidelines in recommending annual mammograms starting at 40 for women at average risk.

For women with a low-penetrance genetic mutation or family history:

  • Get an annual mammogram starting at 40 OR 10 years before your relative’s breast cancer diagnosis. If you have a family history of breast cancer, screening should start 10 years before the age at which your youngest relative was diagnosed, but not before age 30.

Learn more about screening options on the Bright Pink website

 

 Cats mother (center) is a breast cancer survivor.

Get the Lowdown on Your Genetics

One of the most powerful things you can do to begin lowering your breast and ovarian cancer risk is to take an honest look at the links between genetics and cancer — and the risk factors for specific genetic mutations.

At least 10 to 15 percent of breast and ovarian cancers are directly related to the genes we inherit. “We used to think that BRCA 1 and 2 were the only genes involved,” says Bright Pink Chief Medical Officer Deborah Lindner, M.D. “But in reality there are over a dozen different genes that are important to understand whether somebody is at risk for breast and ovarian cancer.”

Even if you do have a genetic mutation that puts you at a higher risk, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get cancer. There’s always something you can do to be proactive and reduce your risk.

But in the case of cancer, ignorance is not bliss. Your family health history can act as a powerful roadmap for you and your healthcare provider to understand and manage your breast and ovarian cancer risk proactively. So find out which relatives — on both parents’ sides, if you’re able — have had cancer of any kind, which types, and how old they were when diagnosed. While breast and ovarian cancer history is important, other types of cancer can also be indicators. 


Capture everything about your family health history that you can using Bright Pink’s simple, one-page Family Health History form. Bring it along to your next doctor’s visit. 

 

Take Five to Stay Beautifully Alive

Got five minutes to possibly make a huge difference in your life? Then check out Bright Pink’s quiz: Assess Your Risk. You’ll breeze through a few easy questions about your health and family history and will learn why each answer matters. Then you’ll discover whether you have below average, average, increased, or high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. With this information, you can learn what you can do right now to proactively manage your health. 💪 More power to ya!  

 

 

Reduce Your Risk, One Step at a Time

If you’re in your 20s and 30s, you’re in luck. That’s the ideal time to start adopting new habits that can reduce your lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer. But no matter your age, picking up healthier exercise and eating routines can make a difference.

We know it can be hard to make them happen every day — Cat herself still finds it a challenge to “make space for mental and physical self-care with the demands of running a company.” But think in baby steps. A short walk today could lead to a longer run tomorrow. Learn more on brightpink.org.   

 

Break a Sweat

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial. There is a clear link between obesity and breast cancer because of the excess estrogen produced by excess fatty tissue. You’ve heard it before: being active is key. At least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise — enough to get your heart rate up or to break a sweat — on most days may reduce your risk by as much as 10 to 20 percent. Plus, it has lots of other benefits like lowering your risk for heart disease and reducing stress.

 

Cut Back on Cocktails

Research shows a 10 percent increase in breast cancer risk for every 10 grams of alcohol — that’s one standard drink — consumed on average each day. Limit alcohol to one drink per day or eliminate it entirely.

 

Eat Well, Live Well

Certain foods can actually help decrease your risk of developing cancer. These cancer-fighting foods are not only nutritious, they are usually inexpensive. Before your next grocery run, check out Bright Pink’s handy cancer-fighting shopping list and aim for:

 

  • Low-fat foods. Research shows a modest decrease in invasive breast cancer in women with a low-fat diet.
  • Vitamin A reduces risk for those who have a family history of the disease. Look for carrots, sweet potatoes, dried herbs, and leafy greens.
  • Vitamin E has been clinically proven to slow the growth of cancer cells in the ovaries by reducing the production of telomerase, a ribonucleoprotein that can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Fill up on leafy greens such as Swiss chard, spinach, and kale, as well as nuts, wheat, and tropical fruits.
  • Fiber is found in whole grains, flax, certain cereals, beans, and vegetables. It has been shown to reduce estrogen levels, which in turn can slow the growth of cancer cells in the breasts. Consider swapping out white bread with whole grain, white rice with brown, and sugary cereal for one rich in fiber and vitamins A and E.
  • Fruits and vegetables carry the vitamins and nutrients that can help lower your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Aim for at least five servings a day. Try to include lots of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, and dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach. (These are also superfoods for your teeth!)
  • Vitamin D is known to help reduce the incidence of breast and ovarian cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells. Research shows that individuals with a vitamin D deficiency have a 2.5-times increase in breast cancer risk, and a possible increase in ovarian cancer risk. Have your vitamin D levels checked at your physician’s office.

It can be surprisingly hard for those of us who live through long, dark winters to keep our levels up, because the sun is our primary and best source of vitamin D. If your levels are low, try to take in the sun in small doses (sunscreen will block production of vitamin D) and also ensure that your diet or a vitamin D supplement provides the rest. Fatty fish (such as salmon) is a good dietary source of vitamin D. Other good sources include milk, fortified cereal, orange juice, and eggs.


    Don’t Smoke

    This one is simple, for a variety of reasons! There’s a known link between tobacco and many cancers (not just lung or other oral cancers). If you do smoke, commit to quitting today.

     

    Learn the Benefits of Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Birth Control

    Pregnancy transforms and stabilizes the cells that comprise milk-producing glands and ducts, so the earlier this transformation happens, the lower the risk of breast cancer. Pregnancy can also reduce your risk of ovarian cancer by eliminating some ovulatory cycles and therefore the number of chances for ovarian cells to “go rogue” during cell division.

    If it makes sense for you, breastfeeding for one to two years — not necessarily consecutively — lowers your risk for both breast and ovarian cancer by decreasing estrogen levels and the number of times you’ll ovulate over the course of your life. It also may reduce a female baby’s overall risk of developing breast cancer later in her life.

    Taking birth control pills for 5 years — even non-consecutively — in your 20s and 30s can reduce your ovarian cancer risk by nearly half.

     

     Cocofloss co-founders, Cat and Chrystle Cu, in the pink of health
     

    Even if you jog every day and eat broccoli for breakfast, screening and self-awareness could save your life — as it did Cat’s. After six months of cancer treatment, she received the all-clear in July! 🎉 Here’s her update:

     

    Now I’m trying to balance these opposing forces: The need to stay super vigilant, but also celebrate the present. The desire to control my destiny (I’ll do all I can to keep my body in health and balance), but also accept nature (accidents, loss, etc. are a part of life!). Along with feeling unlucky this year, I’m also very aware of how lucky I was to find this bugger early and to be in a place where I could afford and receive effective treatment. 

    “I’m so grateful for the cancer awareness I received to aid in my diagnosis. Remember to keep watch of your body and to screen yourself this month! Screenings save lives!

     

    Thanks again to Bright Pink for providing this helpful information about preventing breast and ovarian cancer. For many more details on what you can do to reduce your risk, check out their website!

    🍓🍰 🍓 

     Indulge in our limited-edition Strawberry Shortcake Set. Layered with two packs of Pure Strawberries and two packs of Vanilla Bean, this flossy confection brightens smiles and benefits Bright Pink. 💪 💗

     

     




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