TODAY   |  November 03, 2009

Busting breast myths

Nov. 3: Thanks to early detection and preventive measures, deaths from breast cancer have decreased in recent years. Dr. Roshini Raj has a daily guide to breast health for all women.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> ann.

>> al, thanks.

>>> this morning on "today's health," your guide to healthy breasts. there are at least 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in this country, and every year, roughly 200,000 more women are diagnosed with the disease, but thanks to prevention measures, rates have been declining. dr. raj is editor of "health" magazine. good morning.

>> good morning.

>> we hear about getting mammograms, which is what you suggest, but people may not think about it. what is the number one way we should best take care of our breasts?

>> i think the first thing we should talk about is getting to know your breasts. so, they're all different. one side might be bigger than the other. they might be pointing in different directions. that's all normal. but you should know your breasts very well.

>> why is this.

>> because when you do your monthly breast exams, you're the best to know if there's a change, and you can tell your doctor. during our monthly cycle, our breasts change. the best time is after your period and check for any lumps and bumps. always get them checked out.

>> so, this is about being proactive, making sure --

>> absolutely.

>> and you also want to make sure you do the self-exams.

>> right.

>> but you also say in a broad view looking at our breasts, there are things we can do that are smart to prevent, for example, the things we don't want to experience when we're in our 60s and 70s and 80s.

>> well, sure. there's even some cosmetic things we worry about with our breasts, just when you think about wrinkles and spots on our face.

>> what can we do?

>> those things happen on our breasts as well. sunscreen, as we recommend for your face, you should be using it on your breast area to prevent unsightly things. and the other thing that happens with aging is the sagging with your breasts. we have ligaments. you can think of them as sort of rubber bands that hold up your breasts, and as we age, they tend to overstretch. there are things you can do to prevent that. when exercising, you don't want your breasts jiggling up and down a lot, because that will put more tension on the ligaments. wear a very tight-fitting bra. and in general, you should be wearing a good fitting bra. most women wear the wrong size. if you're wearing the same size for 20 years, you're probably not wearing the right one, because on average, we change our size six times in a lifetime.

>> so think about that when you're shopping for bras, which isn't always fun.

>> absolutely.

>> and you talk about major weight gain being a major factor for breast cancer .

>> yeah. so, obesity is a major risk factor for breast cancer , and specifically weight gain after the age of 18. if you gain more than 55 pounds, you're 1 1/2 times more likely to develop breast cancer .

>> on the good side, though, if you lose the weight, if you lose weight --

>> you reduce that risk. exactly.

>> so you can be proactive. another reason to not be overweight.

>> sure.

>> okay, here's something i didn't know, you say get at least seven hours of sleep, which is hard to do, but you say when we don't have enough sleep, that increases our risk?

>> there was a large study, over 24,000 women in japan . they looked at how many hours they slept and their breast cancer risk. those who slept less than six hours had a greater risk than those who slept more than seven hours. we're not sure why that is. it might be the melatonin when you sleep has something to do with your risk. so, it is important, it's not easy, and this is one study. we still have to look at more studies, but it looks like it could help.

>> that's encouraging, all of us, i think, to sleep a lot more. and radiation, obviously, we know can cause cancer. limit how much you're exposed to.

>> right.

>> nursing can decrease your risk of breast cancer .

>> right. breast -feeding actually decreases -- the longer you breast -feed, the lower your risk is. breast -feeding is also great for heart disease , as we're now learning. it's great for your baby, you and your breasts.

>> and you want to breast -feed, what, 12 months of your entire nursing career?

>> right. the study that looked -- it is a career sometimes, but yeah. the study that looked at heart disease is 12 months or more of breast -feeding, but any amount is beneficial for your breast health .

>> all right. there are some -- over the course of recent years, there have been some reporting about underwire bras and deodorant being a problem, being a cause -- having some causal factors. has that all been disputed?

>> yeah. these are really myths. the underwire bra myth and there is a myth about if you get hit in the breast or trauma to the breast . these haven't borne out to show any risk of breast cancer .

>> even with deodorants.

>> correct, no risk.

>> the other question we should ask the doctors is are my breasts dense? and what exactly does a dense breast mean?

>> it means you have more muscular tissue than fatty tissue . it's an important factor for two reasons. one is you have an increased risk of breast cancer if you have dense breasts. it's also more difficult to diagnose breast cancer in dense breasts, so the regular mammogram may not pick up things if you have more muscular tissue there.

>> is that the same as the sort of fibro krstic lumps women get? is that a dense breast ?

>> that is one form, but you may have a dense breast without lumps. that's why sometimes you need a test other than a mammogram, such as ultrasound or mri. you need to talk to your doctor about do i have dense breasts? what appropriate screening is appropriate for me?

>> what's terrific is b this is we've gotten to the point where we seem to know so much more than we used to just a short time ago.

>> oh, sure.

>> about how to take care of ourselves. dr. roshini raj, thank you for helping us take care of ourselves. get