Sleep Deprivation Links to Higher Risk for Breast Cancer?

I was always considered the night owl in my family. Ever since college, my sleeping patterns consisted of multiple nights burning the midnight oil (in addition to a couple of all nighters). Simply put, my body was pretty programmed to function better at night because it was the time of the day where I was least distracted and I could be very productive. However, a couple of months ago, I decided that I needed to improve my quality (and quantity) of sleep by adopting a normal sleeping schedule (aka, sleeping earlier and waking up earlier). It’s definitely helped with my mood and skin (well, I think it appears better).

However, I’m sure you all know there’s health benefits to getting more hours of sleep daily, but apparently, according to this NYT article, six or seven hours of sleep is still not enough. The article states that poor sleep does quite a number to your mood, productivity, and physical health (including your metabolism and weight control — this could add up to 10 pounds in a year!), among some factors.

However, one of the more alarming things that I came across in the article for women? A higher risk for breast cancer:

The risk of cancer may also be elevated in people who fail to get enough sleep. A Japanese study of nearly 24,000 women ages 40 to 79 found that those who slept less than six hours a night were more likely to develop breast cancer than women who slept longer. The increased risk may result from diminished secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Among participants in the Nurses Health Study, Eva S. Schernhammer of Harvard Medical School found a link between low melatonin levels and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Hear that ladies? Keep the hours of sleep you collect daily in check – and your boobies will love you!

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Asian Women Don’t Get Breast Cancer?

Photo by Richard Cavosora, courtesy of Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum’s “A Book of Hope: Stories of Healing to Honor Asian American & Pacific Islander Cancer Survivors.”

We may be nearing the end of October, but that doesn’t mean breast cancer awareness stops here. The most commonly diagnosed cancer among Asian American women is something we have to be vigilant about year-round. Here, a personal story about one woman fighting for awareness in the Asian American community.

“Asian women don’t get breast cancer.”

What if you heard these words from a medical professional? Susan Shinagawa did in 1991 after finding a lump in her breast during her monthly self-exam. Today, it’s those words that drive the work she now does. Shinagawa wants to make sure that no other woman of Asian descent will hear these words and that all women regularly get screened for breast cancer.

A decade ago, Shinagawa was working as a program administrator at an academic cancer center in San Diego, Calif. She says that, at the time, she knew very little about cancer even though she worked at the center. A friend of hers was giving breast self-examination (BSE) workshops and asked Shinagawa to attend. So she went to support her friend.

At the workshop, Shinagawa’s friend mentioned several risk factors for breast cancer that caught her attention. She had a couple of those risk factors and decided that she should start doing BSE. She began doing monthly BSE and recorded what she felt each month on a breast map.

“After several months of doing monthly self-exams, I felt something completely different in May 1991 than I’d ever felt,” Shinagawa says during our phone interview. “It was really obvious and just underneath my skin. I could even look straight down and see this lump sticking out.”

Shinagawa was preparing to take a leave of absence from work to join her naval pilot husband in Florida for a year. Before she left, she decided to get the lump checked out.

Her mammogram came out negative. However, says Shinagawa, at that time, 40 percent of all pre-menopausal women had false negative mammograms. The diagnostic radiologist decided to do a sonogram, which showed Shinagawa’s lump to be a solid mass, and not cystic. So Shinagawa went to see a surgical oncologist, who told her that she had fibrocystic breast disease, a.k.a. lumpy breasts. He told her that she had nothing to worry about, that she was too young to have breast cancer, she had no family history of it and besides, “Asian women don’t get breast cancer.”

“At that time, I really didn’t know anything about breast cancer or cancer statistics. So his comments really didn’t hit me,” says Shinagawa. “All I was thinking was, ‘I’m young and this is what I want to hear.’” But a little voice inside Shinagawa’s head kept telling her that something was going on.

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