Breast Cancer Awareness Month, what does that evoke for you? Sports teams and flight attendants clad in pink uniforms? Yogurt with pink lids? “Boobies” bracelets and t-shirts? At Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic and Women’s Health Outreach it means striving to raise awareness of ways to actually access appropriate medical care and reduce personal risk of breast cancer. You may have noticed pink flags at various businesses and homes around town. This community-wide display of flags serves as a reminder to access preventive care and will emphasize the importance of breast health and preventative screening services. The funds raised provide crucial sustainability, ensuring continuance of KBFPC programs that offer breast cancer screening services and breast health education.
Our message remains constant year-round, even though we emphasize it during October. In a tight-knit community like ours we all too often get additional reminders when our family members, friends and neighbors receive a breast cancer diagnosis or lose their life because of this disease.
Oftentimes we hear from our clients of their frustration and fear that there is nothing they can do to increase their chance of avoiding breast cancer. There is much attention given to breast exams and mammograms, which remain a key factor in improving health outcomes. Unfortunately, not as much emphasis is placed on choices we can make in our daily lives that impact our own personal risk of breast cancer, and improve overall health.
No matter your age, you can lower your risk of breast cancer if you limit alcohol to one drink per day or less, avoid smoking, and maintain a healthy weight. It’s also important to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week and eat plenty of fruits and veggies. Here is more detailed information about ways to improve your breast health at any age:
- Food: The American Journal of Public Health (Nov. 1, 1988) reported that fiber in your diet lowers your risk of breast cancer (as well as other types of cancer). A survey of 7,700 women found that women who were frequently constipated (often a result of a low-fiber diet), were more likely to get breast and colon cancers.
- Alcohol: Some studies have linked alcohol use with an increased risk of breast cancer. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that women who consumed an average of two alcoholic beverages per day had higher levels of estrogen in their blood and urine than they did when they did not drink at all. Estrogen is a potent hormone that promotes the growth of cells in the breast and the reproductive organs; many experts think the continual exposure of breast tissue to estrogen could be at the root of breast cancer. However, since all women do not get breast cancer, there are clearly other factors involved.
- Exercise: Regular exercise dramatically reduces the risk of breast cancer in young women (OB-GYN News, 1994). Research suggests that exercise shortens the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which reduces the production of ovarian hormones that have been linked to breast cancer risk. A study of 1,000 women found that the risk of breast cancer decreased as the number of hours of exercise each week increased. Women who exercised 4 hours per week had more than 50 percent less breast cancer than women who did not exercise.
- Smoking: Several studies indicate that women who smoke are at increased risk of breast cancer, with the risk increasing with number of cigarettes per day. Research suggests that women who are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (second-hand smoke) are also at increased risk.
- Oral, Ring, and Patch Contraceptives: Numerous studies have found that oral, ring, and patch contraceptives (contraception containing estrogen) offer protection again ovarian and endometrial cancers. However, the relationship between oral contraceptives and breast cancer is less clear. While most studies have not identified a link between oral contraceptive use and risk for breast cancer, a few recent studies reported finding a connection. While the results of these studies are not conclusive, they do suggest that some women may be at greater risk, including women who have not given birth, women with a family history of breast cancer, and women who have taken oral contraceptives for longer than seven years.
Due to the inconclusive nature of these studies, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with advisory committees from various health agencies, have recommended no changes in prescribing practices.
Since the possible link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer is not conclusive, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider about contraceptive methods that will be best for you. Your healthcare provider can discuss the pros and cons of using oral contraceptives and also recommend alternate methods of birth control.
And, to be clear, someone can do everything “right” and still find out they have breast cancer. Making healthy choices simply reduces breast cancer risk, and will positively benefit many aspects of your health.
Screening for breast cancer remains a key piece of preventative health care. Breast cancer screening uses various tools, which can include clinical breast exams, mammography, and genetic counseling.
In recent years, nationally recognized medical associations have failed to reach a consensus on one set of screening recommendations. This leaves practitioners and individuals with mixed information and often challenging decisions to make about what appropriate preventative care looks like.
We invite you to join us on Friday, Oct. 14, for an interesting and informative presentation by KBFPC Medical Director Dr. Katie Ostrom as she discusses current breast cancer screening recommendations and what they mean for your health.
The Open House will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Use this as an opportunity to mingle with community members and take a look around at KBFPC’s clinic, outreach building, and REC Room. At 5:30 p.m., Dr. Ostrom will lead “What do they mean for me?” presentation with Q&A session to follow.
If you do not yet have a flag and would like to participate, please stop by KBFPC 3959 Ben Walters Lane, or contact the clinic at 235-3436.
Catriona Reynolds is the Interim Executive Director at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic. Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic partners with Alaska Breast and Cervical Health Check, South Peninsula Hospital, Alaska Run for Women and Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. to provide low-cost and no-cost preventative breast cancer services across the southern Kenai Peninsula.