Breast Health: Knowledge is Power

Written by  //  February 28, 2013  //  HEALTH & BEAUTY  // 

BreastHealthArticle

By Dr. LaTrelle D. Jackson

This time of year often brings increased attention to breast health concerns in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Women have made significant progress against the disease with a noted decline in the number of reported deaths. From 1990-2007, there was a 30% reduction in breast cancer deaths according to the National Cancer Institute. It is believed that earlier detection and improved treatments have had a direct relationship on this positive outcome. However, women are still at risk.  One out of every eight women will face a diagnosis in her lifetime. Matters are further complicated when considering more African American women die of breast cancer than white women. Let’s address the psychological impact of this disease and what we can do as a community.

1. Emotional Reactions and Psychological Pain – Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating.  So much of what it means to be a woman is connected to one’s breasts.   Developmentally, as girls mature into adults, their identity is shaped in part by the image of and relationship to their breasts.   Culture, media, and social expectations all contribute to one’s perceptions of beauty.  Whether a female prefers large or small breasts, upright or pendulant shapes, the goal is to have healthy breasts.  For many, breasts are central to one’s sense of femininity, sexuality, and attractiveness.  A breast cancer diagnosis threatens that sense of identity and can prompt a range of emotions – from fear to anger. Oftentimes, women search for information, validation, and support to deal with the psychological pain and medical outcome uncertainty.  Having a strong support system and trustworthy medical team is key to navigating the healing journey.

2. Prevention, Assessment, and Treatment – The medical community has stated that a healthy diet, exercise, and regular mammograms are the best ways to fight this disease.  Fruits and vegetables are encouraged to be a central part of the diet, while meats are to be limited.  Historically, monthly self-examinations were recommended as a good prevention strategy, as well as doctor checks during annual physical exams.  However, recent medical reports from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) have cautioned reliance on self-examinations, discouraged annual doctor exams for lumps, and changed the recommendation for annual mammograms in women over 40 years old.   Mammograms catch about 80% of cancers, but are imperfect (i.e., tumors may be in areas hard to image or women may have dense breasts and cancers go undetected). For women with dense breasts or who have diagnostic concerns, an ultrasound or breast MRI is often done to accompany mammogram information.  Women are encouraged to review their risk factors, discuss screening frequency and type, and treatment options with their health care provider.

3. What we CAN do? – Increasing the intake of certain foods has shown promise in many research studies.  Specifically, blueberries, red grapes, pomegranates, and white button mushrooms are believed to retard breast cancer growth and restrict estrogen production. Limiting the intake of fatty foods is also important. Diets high in fat have been linked with breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Drink alcohol in moderation and consult with your health care practitioner if you ever notice changes in the color, shape, or consistency in your breasts (i.e. dimpling, lumps).  Understandably, it may be scary to think about the prospect of having cancer if something is noticed. However, facing that fear and having the opportunity to get assessment information and/or treatment is so much better than being paralyzed by that fear and losing options.  Early detection leads to better outcomes. Do what’s necessary to give you the strength to face this challenge – pray, seek guidance from elders, or get a friend to go with you to the doctor. Discuss your concerns with trusted loved ones or get a therapist for additional support.  Reward yourself for the courage to address each step in the process.

4. Community Impact – Breast cancer supporters often target the woman with the diagnosis.  It’s important to consider the concerns of those in that woman’s inner circle as well.  If there is a partner or child involved, he or she may be deeply affected, but unable to express it.  There is an unspoken expectation that significant others should support the patient, but little is said about their needs, fears, or anger concerning the situation.  Further, space might not be given for emotional processing because they’re not the patient and don’t feel legitimately able to do so. Considering alternative venues, such as pastoral counseling and individual or family therapy, for processing, coping strategies, and personal growth may be helpful.

Breast Health: Knowledge is Power

This time of year often brings increased attention to breast health concerns in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Women have made significant progress against the disease with a noted decline in the number of reported deaths. From 1990-2007, there was a 30% reduction in breast cancer deaths according to the National Cancer Institute. It is believed that earlier detection and improved treatments have had a direct relationship on this positive outcome. However, women are still at risk.  One out of every eight women will face a diagnosis in her lifetime. Matters are further complicated when considering more African American women die of breast cancer than white women. Let’s address the psychological impact of this disease and what we can do as a community.

1. Emotional Reactions and Psychological Pain – Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating.  So much of what it means to be a woman is connected to one’s breasts.   Developmentally, as girls mature into adults, their identity is shaped in part by the image of and relationship to their breasts.   Culture, media, and social expectations all contribute to one’s perceptions of beauty.  Whether a female prefers large or small breasts, upright or pendulant shapes, the goal is to have healthy breasts.  For many, breasts are central to one’s sense of femininity, sexuality, and attractiveness.  A breast cancer diagnosis threatens that sense of identity and can prompt a range of emotions – from fear to anger. Oftentimes, women search for information, validation, and support to deal with the psychological pain and medical outcome uncertainty.  Having a strong support system and trustworthy medical team is key to navigating the healing journey.

2. Prevention, Assessment, and Treatment – The medical community has stated that a healthy diet, exercise, and regular mammograms are the best ways to fight this disease.  Fruits and vegetables are encouraged to be a central part of the diet, while meats are to be limited.  Historically, monthly self-examinations were recommended as a good prevention strategy, as well as doctor checks during annual physical exams.  However, recent medical reports from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) have cautioned reliance on self-examinations, discouraged annual doctor exams for lumps, and changed the recommendation for annual mammograms in women over 40 years old.   Mammograms catch about 80% of cancers, but are imperfect (i.e., tumors may be in areas hard to image or women may have dense breasts and cancers go undetected). For women with dense breasts or who have diagnostic concerns, an ultrasound or breast MRI is often done to accompany mammogram information.  Women are encouraged to review their risk factors, discuss screening frequency and type, and treatment options with their health care provider.

3. What we CAN do? – Increasing the intake of certain foods has shown promise in many research studies.  Specifically, blueberries, red grapes, pomegranates, and white button mushrooms are believed to retard breast cancer growth and restrict estrogen production. Limiting the intake of fatty foods is also important. Diets high in fat have been linked with breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Drink alcohol in moderation and consult with your health care practitioner if you ever notice changes in the color, shape, or consistency in your breasts (i.e. dimpling, lumps).  Understandably, it may be scary to think about the prospect of having cancer if something is noticed. However, facing that fear and having the opportunity to get assessment information and/or treatment is so much better than being paralyzed by that fear and losing options.  Early detection leads to better outcomes. Do what’s necessary to give you the strength to face this challenge – pray, seek guidance from elders, or get a friend to go with you to the doctor. Discuss your concerns with trusted loved ones or get a therapist for additional support.  Reward yourself for the courage to address each step in the process.

4. Community Impact – Breast cancer supporters often target the woman with the diagnosis.  It’s important to consider the concerns of those in that woman’s inner circle as well.  If there is a partner or child involved, he or she may be deeply affected, but unable to express it.  There is an unspoken expectation that significant others should support the patient, but little is said about their needs, fears, or anger concerning the situation.  Further, space might not be given for emotional processing because they’re not the patient and don’t feel legitimately able to do so. Considering alternative venues, such as pastoral counseling and individual or family therapy, for processing, coping strategies, and personal growth may be helpful.

It should also be noted that both women and men can be diagnosed with breast cancer.  The famed actor, Richard Roundtree (lead in the movie Shaft), was diagnosed with breast cancer and became a spokesperson for men’s breast health. For men, there is often an additional stigma due to the perception that this cancer is a woman’s disease.
In summary, regularly practice healthy preventative strategies and partner with your doctor for breast health management.  Should a problem arise, engage a system of support, gather multiple expert opinions in treatment planning, and utilize your coping strengths (i.e., prayer, social support, faith).  Always remember – knowledge is power.  Use that power to activate your self-advocacy mission when dealing with any adversity…especially breast cancer.

_______________________________________________________________________

 LaTrelle_JacksonLaTrelle D. Jackson
LaTrelle D. Jackson, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and clinically-certified forensic counselor. Dr. Jackson is an associate professor in the School of Psychology and Counseling, and director of the Psychological Services Center at Regent University. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from The University of Georgia. Committed to integrated wellness, community empowerment, moral leadership, and culturally-sensitive education, Dr. Jackson has engaged in a variety of academic, business, political, and civic endeavors. In 2011, she was elected to the office of Secretary for the American Psychological Association, while retaining her position as Membership Chairperson. Currently, she serves as the Psychological Health Consultant for Esteem Magazine, an Atlanta, Georgia based firm. She can be contacted at latrjac@regent.edu for questions, comments, or concerns generated from the column.

About the Author

View all posts by