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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Importance of Breast Self-Exam: Breast Cancer Battle Can Be Won

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The Importance of Breast Self-Examination

It is important to examine your breasts each month past age twenty at the same point in your menstrual cycle, preferably the first week after your menstrual period ends.  Do not examine them during your menstrual period.  

Before the period, a woman's breasts may swell and become tender or lumpy.  This usually decreases after the period.  



The breasts also become larger and firmer during pregnancy, in preparation for breastfeeding.  Familiarize yourself with the normal feel of your breasts so that you can detect any changes such as enlargement of a lump.  A woman who is accustomed to the way her breasts feels is better able to notice subtle changes.  Any changes in your breasts should be reported to your health care provider, and you should be rechecked by a professional if you have any doubt concerning your examination.  

Since men also can get breast cancer, they can benefit from self-examination as well.  

The following is the recommended procedure for breast self-examination: 
  1. While standing and looking in the mirror, raise your hands over your head and press them together.  Notice the shape of your breasts.  Place your hands on your hips, apply pressure, and look for irritation or dimpling of the skin, nipples that seem to be out of position, one breast that looks different from the other, swelling in a portion of the breast, nipple pain, an inward curve of the nipple, a discharge from the nipple (other than breast milk), or red scaling or thickening of the skin and nipples.
  2. Raise one arm above your head.  With the other hand, firmly explore your breast.  Beginning at the outer edge, using a circular motion, gradually work toward the nipple.  Take your time when examining the area between the nipple and the armpit, and feel the armpit as well.  You have lymph nodes in the armpit; they move freely and feel soft, and are not painful to the touch.  Look for lumps that are hard and not mobile.  Cancers are often attached to underlying muscle or the skin.  When you have finished examining one breast, repeat this on the other side.
  3. Lie down on your back and repeat Step 2.  Lumps may be more easily detected in this position.  Also, squeeze each nipple gently to check for blood or a watery yellow or pink discharge.
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In addition to monthly self-examination, the American Cancer Society recommends that women between the ages of twenty and thirty-nine have their breasts examined by a physician every one to three years.

After age forty, the exam should be performed every year.  Women should get their first mammogram by age forty, then have one every year along with their yearly exam. 

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Mammograms can detect small tumors and breast abnormalities up to two years before they can be felt, when they are most treatable.  A mammogram should be scheduled within the first fourteen days of your menstrual cycle, when the breasts are less likely to be swollen.  You should not use any anti-perspirant, deodorant, or powder on the day of the test, as it can interfere with the reading.
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When breast cancer is caught in the very early stages--when it has not invaded nearby tissues--the cure rate is near 100 per cent with surgery alone.  Tumors of 1 centimeter or less in size carry a particularly good prognosis--less than a 10-percent likelihood of recurrence within ten years.  In general, the risk of recurrence rises with increasing tumor size and lymp node involvement.
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The connection between exercise and cancer is a fairly new area of research.  Some studies suggest that getting regular exercise in youth might give life-long protection against breast cancer.  Even moderate physical activity as an adult may lower breast cancer risk.  More research is underway to confirm these findings.  Outdoor exercise where you are getting some (but not too much) sun exposure also raises Vitamin D levels (low levels have been associated with a greater risk of cancer).


[SOURCE:   Phyllis A. Balch, CNC and James F. Balch, MD, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third Edition, p. 222, 223]

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