living_well_101-article_ii_photo_web.jpgWe hear many stories about breast cancer every day; some are saddening and some are inspiring. One common thread found in these stories is words of regret and others of relief.

Over the years, we may have heard our loved ones ask or say: “Why didn’t I get screened early?” or “I am glad that I screened early,” when learning of their fate concerning cancer. Their trials and their triumphs reflect the importance of breast cancer screening.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 39,620 women will have died from breast cancer in 2013 and 296,980 women will be diagnosed with invasive and noninvasive types of breast cancer.

Being a woman, age, genetics and family history are some of the risk factors for breast cancer. Early detection still remains the most important life-saving measure that one can take to help prevent breast cancer.

Current evidence supporting benefits of mammograms is even stronger than in the past. These benefits outweigh the risks of screening or limitations of a mammogram screening.

The American Cancer Society recommends women over age 40 have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as a part of their regular health exam by a health care professional every three years, and every year after turning 40.

As public health professionals, we often face questions regarding the benefits of a breast self-exam (BSE). Starting in their 20s, women can begin to perform BSEs, however, research has shown that BSEs only play a small role in the discovery of cancer.

Although BSEs can assist with early detection, one should be mindful about the false feeling of security that come from a breast self-exam, too. Seeking the help of a professional can help you with achieving more accurate results and can help you answer any questions you may have regarding your self-exam.

Along with screenings, women should consider adopting overall healthier lifestyles to help prevent breast cancer and many other diseases. Exercise and choosing to eat healthier foods play a significant role in preventing many diseases.

For example, consumption of fibers (up to 30-35 grams per day) can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 32 percent. Some high-fiber foods to consider include: oatmeal, cinnamon, chia seeds, apples and berries.

In addition, cruciferous vegetables such as brocolli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts contains one of the primary phytochemicals that has preventive effects on cancer.

Eating more fatty fish (not deep-fried fatty), walnuts and chia seeds provide another important element called Omega-3 in regards to preventing cancer. Another nutrient  that is very important for women to use in the fight against cancer is folate.

A woman should intake at least 400 micrograms folate per day. Nature provides us with many foods rich in folate.  For instance, a half cup of black kidney beans contains 128 micrograms of folate,  a half cup of lentils contains 180 micrograms of folate, and two cups of  fresh spinach contains 118 micrograms of folate.

The Community Outreach and Preventive Services (COPS) Core of the FAMU P20 Center of Excellence for Cancer Research, Training and Community Service provides uninsured and underinsured women, living in Leon and Gadsden Counties, free mammogram screenings and a medical check-up in partnership with Tallahassee Memorial Health Care. Please contact COPS for your free screening at 850-561-2809 or toll free at -855-411-2537.

Dr. Saleh M.M. Rahman is the director of Community Outreach and Preventive Services (COPS) Core and an associate professor of Public Health at Florida A&M University. Dr. Rahman is also a published author and columnist (Pen-name: Sezan Mahmud) and has published 24 books and numerous health articles.