Breast cancer steals far too many lives, but we’re making progress in learning how to prevent, detect, treat and move on from it. Helping to spread the word are SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer. These journalists, doctors and cancer survivors are making a difference by educating, complaining, comforting and engaging -- pushing the conversation about breast cancer forward in crucial ways.
As we celebrate their accomplishments, we paused to ask some of them what they wish every woman (and man) knew about breast cancer. Their list:
1. It’s not your job to detect breast cancer
It’s too bad, but according to research, breast self-exams (BSEs) don’t find breast cancer early or increase the odds of survival, says medical sociologist Gayle Sulik, PhD. Maybe worst of all, she says, is that “boobie” campaigns that promote BSEs send an unspoken message that women are responsible for finding their own cancers. “For women who don’t find their cancer themselves, this is a particularly heavy emotional burden,” says Sulik. Bottom line? A self-exam may be a way to get to know your body, Sulik says -- but you shouldn’t think of it as a good way to detect breast cancer.
2. Don’t be dense about mammograms
If you have dense breasts, a mammogram is about as a good at determining whether you have breast cancer as the x-ray tech flipping a coin would be. Fortunately, says radiologist Stacey Vitiello, MD, there’s something you can do about it. Ask your doctor whether your mammogram showed that you have dense breasts. If yes, ask for a second exam that works better for your kind of tissue: a breast ultrasound, an MRI or a test called gamma imaging. Don’t leave detection to chance.
3. Your weight (and diet) matter
Recent research suggests that an obese woman with breast cancer is more likely than a normal-weight woman to have her cancer recur, even if she has state-of-the-art treatment. Fat cells are like factories, turning out hormones and inflammatory chemicals that can spur the growth of cancer, says Oriental Medicine specialist Nalini Chilkov, LAc, OMD. Other research suggests that high blood sugar levels may also raise the risk of breast cancer. Chilkov's recommendation: Steer clear of highly processed foods in favor of high-fiber, nutrient-packed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish.
4. Think before you pink.
Some breast cancer organizations are successful at raising money for research or providing much-needed services to women fighting the disease. Others are very, very good at lining their own pockets, says Gayle Sulik. “A person can shop for the cure, laugh for the cure, and drink pink-tinis for the cure,” she says, but you can’t count on your cash doing a bit of good unless you ask some questions. Find out what organization your contribution will support, Sulik recommends -- and how much of your donation will actually reach them. “Look at any donation as an investment in your own health,” Sulik says. “Read the fine print.”
5. Recovery doesn’t end when treatment is finished
After treatment for breast cancer comes another challenge: How do you stop being a patient and start being a survivor? It’s a scary moment; doctors are no longer monitoring your health as closely, and you’re left alone with your fears of recurrence. Unfortunately, there are no support organizations that focus on this phase of recovery, says two-time breast cancer survivor Jean Campbell (though she’s working to set one up). What can help in the meantime: Giving yourself permission to follow your dreams, whether that means taking a trip, learning to paint or starting a business. “Having something to move toward is the only thing that can get you away from thoughts of the cancer experience,” says Campbell.
“You’ve been through hell -- give yourself permission to do what you want to do.”
Find out your risk now with this breast cancer risk assessment.