Breast Health: A Shanghai Family Guide

By 2018-12-20 23:26:08

How to keep your breasts happy and healthy

There's no one time of the year to make sure your breasts are healthy. And although many associate the now renowned pink ribbon with breast cancer awareness and the month of October, it shouldn't be the only time think about breast health. As a matter of fact, rather than waiting to find something wrong, look to our host country's way of considering health and work on the preventative side of the equation through self knowledge, healthy practices and regular checkups.


Not so pretty in pink

The pink ribbon became the symbol of breast cancer awareness in 1993 when the Breast Cancer Research Foundation was founded by Alexandra Penny, editor of Self magazine, and Evelyn Lauder, breast cancer survivor and Sr VP of Estée Lauder Companies. In past years, critics have complained that focusing on breast cancer awareness only in October is a commercially driven campaign, designed to line corporate pockets as opposed to actually benefitting research and those diagnosed with the disease. Unfortunately, China’s breast cancer mortality rates have almost doubled in the past 30 years, increasing by as much as 138 percent in Shanghai, according to the Shanghai CDC’s Ying Zheng, MD. These are disheartening numbers for women anywhere, but also a springboard for more open conversations.

Having had a personal relationship with breast cancer twice within the last 10 years, I think more public conversations are necessary, especially in a country where it is difficult to navigate the system in regard to cancer treatment. While there’s still a long way to go for all types of cancer treatment, we’ve come quite far – not to diminish the sobering statistics or the devastation a breast cancer diagnosis can bring. Here’s a guide to the preventative side of the equation for you to keep in throughout the year.


What is a “normal” pair?

While there are certain physical aspects that can make us feel awkward or self-conscious, according to Body-for-LIFE for Women author Pamela Peeke, MD, the following are all indications that your “girls” are, in fact, normal:

• They’re not the same size.
• One hangs slightly lower than the other.
• There’s hair around the nipples.
• They feel tender or painful before and during your period.


Outside of these attributes that make yours unique to you, there are a variety of benign breast conditions. According to the American Cancer Society, a benign breast condition is any non-cancerous breast abnormality. When breast tissue is examined under a microscope, it is not uncommon for some kind of abnormality to appear, so much so that nine out of 10 women can have one. These can include benign tumors, cysts, breast inflammation and fibrocystic breast condition. According to, fibrocystic breast condition consists of lumpy breasts. The lumps are usually small masses or cysts, and discomfort can be  felt in one or both breasts. It is a very common problem for many women between the ages of 30 and 50. The good news is that this condition tends to diminish after menopause.


Keeping the girls healthy and happy

There are a few things we can do to optimize breast health, both at the doctor’s office and at home. Dr Li Zheng, a gynecologist at ParkwayHealth, offers this advice: “While a mammogram is still the best test for doctors to detect breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt, it still might not be right for all women. However, every woman can choose to make breast self-exams part of her personal monitoring and screening plan.”


It’s also important to talk to your doctor about your family and personal health history, as well as your individual risk factors. “Together, you can create a screening plan that makes the most sense for you and your unique situation,” explains Dr Zheng. There are many ways to take care of your breasts and your overall health. Studies have shown the following can go a long way in preventative care, and help reduce one's risk for breast cancer: have regular medical exams, eat healthily, exercise regularly, breastfeed your baby (when possible) and avoid certain habits to continually protect your breasts. It goes without saying that smoking is detrimental to overall health, but the carcinogens in cigarettes break down collagen and create sagging. Similarly, staying at a healthy weight and limiting consumption of alcohol also lower your risk.


For something extra, consider a lymphatic breast massage as a special pampering treat in your healthy breast arsenal. Take a closer look at Chinese spas, and you’ll notice there’s almost always a breast massage on the menu. And although it might feel unnatural or awkward at first, finding the right technician and someone trustworthy will be worth the effort. Green Massage’s Kiki Ren shares that the primary goal is to help “relieve toxin build-up and encourage blood circulation for a healthy lymphatic system.” Although the massage focuses mainly on the breast, it will also stimulate the lymph notes. According to, the lymph nodes in our armpits filter out and trap unwanted substances such as bacteria, viruses and cancer cells before safely removing them. Massaging this area can reduce build-up, and added benefits include: better skin tone, firmness, relief from painful premenstrual symptoms, removal of toxins, toned muscles and relaxation. Who wouldn’t want that?


While it might be intimidating to get to know your pair – especially to do something about a worrisome issue – the benefits to staying abreast of research and healthy habits will benefit not only your best friends, but also your overall health and well-being.


4 Breast-Healthy Foods to Try:

1. Carotenoid-rich sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and dark leafy greens help regulate cell defense, growth and repair.

2. Polyphenols in green tea can help reduce urinary estrogen levels.

3. Ellagic acid found in pomegranates can suppress estrogen production and prevent the growth of breast cancer cells.

4. The compounds found in certain mushrooms can inhibit aromatase enzyme activity, which is responsible for estrogen production.