As college students, finding time in your day to take care of your health is rarely a priority. With constant pressure to make bad lifestyle choices — like that bottle of wine you drank watching Juan Pablo on “The Bachelor” — it’s difficult to keep your body on a healthy track. But in addition to the everyday struggle of making healthy choices, cancer is a very real health concern for college students. In fact, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer fatalities among women ages 20-59. That’s right, age 20.

So what are some ways that you can combat breast cancer early on? Monitoring your own lifestyle choices such as making sure you’re on the proper form of birth control, limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking habits to minimize your risk isn’t a bad place to start.

But in addition to living a more healthy lifestyle, Toni Mountain, survivor programs manager for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Oregon and its southwest Washington affiliate, stresses the importance of getting to know your own breasts so you can detect if there are any changes.

“You have to know what your own breasts feel like,” she said. @@http://www.komenoregon.org/Local_Komen/Toni.shtml@@

After being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30, Mountain recommends getting high-quality clinical breast exams every three years, starting at age 20 (or earlier if you’re fully developed), and being aware of any breast changes. A proper clinical breast exam is targeted to specific areas starting at the collarbone, the bra line, the sternum and the ribcage — even under your armpits to check your lymph nodes.

It’s also important to get to know your family history of cancer, especially breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, having a family history of breast cancer puts both men and women at a greater risk of diagnosis. Today, a woman’s risk is approximately doubled if they have one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer.

This was an alarming statistic for University of Oregon senior Brandon Sandberg, who has a family history of both colon and breast cancer. @@http://uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/brandon%2Asandberg@@

“My grandma lived with breast cancer for about a year and passed away when she was 47, after the breast cancer spread to her lungs,” he said. “My mom was diagnosed in October of 2012 when she was 46-years-old, about the same age as my grandma when she was diagnosed.” Sandberg’s mom found a lump when she was checking her own breast tissue in the shower. After visiting the doctor, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and underwent six months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

Although not as common, men are also at risk for developing breast cancer. Sandberg sees no harm in getting tested and self-testing at a younger age, especially when you have a family history.

“When it comes to something as serious as cancer, I’d rather be overly cautious than naive and have a false perception that I’m invincible and that it can’t happen to me,” he said.

College is stressful enough without having to worry about the very real threat of cancer. So, do yourself a favor and clean up your unhealthy lifestyle habits, get checked by a physician and self-test and be aware of your family history.

Clare Stager is a freelance writer.


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