Let’s talk about this. There is no way to prevent breast cancer. None whatsoever. Not now. Maybe in the future. But not now. The only exception is if a person has a BRCA 1 or 2 mutation s/he can have a double mastectomy (a barrel of fun) and a salpingo-oophorectomy (tubes and ovaries removed). This minimizes the risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer in this small population. Somewhere between 5-10% of breast cancers are due to BRCA mutations. That’s about 12,000-24,000 newly diagnosed cases each year. People used to say the only way to prevent breast cancer was by being a man. Not true. 10% of breast cancers are in men.
Every now and then, well meaning friends will post something in my Facebook messenger account asking me to put a heart on my timeline in honor of Breast Cancer Prevention Week. The first couple of times I received the request I ignored it. There is no such thing as Breast Cancer Prevention Week. Or at least, I have not been able to find any information about this. The next wave of requests hit me when I was feeling snarkier. I probably pissed off some coworkers when I went on a rant about why I would not put a heart on my timeline.
That was a few months ago. I recently saw another wave of red hearts peppering timelines and wondered what hidden cause was making the rounds. Then I received another request to put the red heart on my timeline and share the message about Breast Cancer Prevention Week. I told my friend it doesn’t exist. I decided I had to post something about it.
So, here is what I do know about preventing breast cancer, per the Mayo Clinic website:
1. Don’t smoke.
2. Don’t be fat.
4. Limit alcohol consumption.
6. Limit hormone replacement therapy.
7. Minimize exposure to radiation and environmental pollution.
Considering I did 1-6 and can only hope that my environment was as safe as possible — and I still had breast cancer — my takeaway is that the list is flawed. While I was being treated someone told me that cancer is a matter of bad genes, bad environment, or bad luck. For me, it was bad luck.
Maybe I was a bit more peeved this most recent time I received the request because I had just found out that one of my breast cancer buddies received bad news. Her cancer came back as a free floating belly mass. WTF?! I hadn’t considered that possibility. I have only been thinking about the liver, lungs, bones, and brain as possible metastasis sites. They are the most common, but they don’t have exclusive rights, apparently.
You might be wondering what in sam hell you can do.
You can do breast self-exams (BSE) monthly, preferably at the same time each month. Gentlemen, this includes you, too.
If you have any doubt you are doing it correctly, ask your doctor or check out some videos on the internet. It’s a good thing to know your breasts when they are healthy so you have a point of comparison. It’s also nice to know what you’re missing when they are chopped off. Your breast tissue covers more area than you would think. Here is a good visual. Don’t forget to check all the way into your armpit. That is where cancer likes to hang out on its way to other organs. Since my mastectomy, my breast exam instuctions are to palpate to the bottom of my ribcage. Go for it. What do you have to lose other than a minute?
You can get genetic testing if you are high risk. This is currently covered under the ACA; don’t count on it if Trump gets his way with insurance. Preventive medicine for millions of people will no longer be availale and there will be a spike in breast cancer (all cancer) deaths because some people (everyone else besides the 1%) will not be diagnosed when they are Stage I or II and their cancers will be more advanced, hence more lethal.
You can get mammograms. Sure, I know they are about as much fun as slamming your finger in a car door, but they do help detect tumors.
You can be proactive. If you think something is amiss, push for testing. Push for answers. I did. It saved my life. For now.
And, for the love of god, don’t do your BSE with a bra on or have talons like this model.
You can exercise, eat well, keep your weight under control, don’t smoke, limit alcohol. There is a wealth of information about healthy diets. I’m not a dietician. I know what works for me. Find what works for you.
And, if you do get cancer, it’s not the end of the world or your life. It’s just the end of life as you knew it.