Breast Issues Among Female Athletes

Breast specialist, Dr. Barbara Bourland, answers your most delicate questions to help keep your bosom in good health.

As told to Jessica Sebor

Q: I recently gave birth. I would like to return to running, but I'm afraid that this will affect my breastfeeding. Should I be concerned?

Dr. Bourland: Exercise does not have any impact on the quantity or quality of your breast milk. Running won't damage the breast or affect your milk at all. You do have to be extra-careful about hydration, however. It's crucial to make sure you're getting enough fluids. If you start your run dehydrated, that will have an impact on your milk production.

Q: I have a history of breast cancer in my family. My grandmother and aunt both passed away from this disease. How can I better my chances of staying healthy and cancer-free?

Dr. B: It's important to remember that every woman has a fairly significant risk of developing breast cancer. One out of eight women will be diagnosed at some point in her lifetime. It's important for all women to perform self-exams and receive mammograms after the age of 40.

If you have multiple family members with breast or ovarian cancer, your risk may be increased, as this could indicate a potential genetically transmitted syndrome. It's important to discuss your family history with your doctor. If you are high-risk, she may recommend genetic testing or MRI screenings.

To reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, one of the most important things you can do is exercise. Cardio exercises like running, which elevate your heart rate significantly, have been proven to lower your chances of developing this disease. Studies have shown that if you aim for a minimum of four to five hours per week, you can reduce your risk by as much as 20 percent.

Along the same lines, you should try to keep your body mass index (BMI) at a safe level (below 25 for women). The more body fat you have, the higher your estrogen levels will be. Because breast cancer cells grow more quickly in the presence of this hormone, an unhealthy BMI can increase your risk of disease.

Q: I've recently started running, and have noticed that my breasts are increasingly sensitive. What can I do to alleviate this pain?

Dr. B: You're likely suffering from either nipple sensitivity or general soreness. The good news is that both issues can be solved by a good bra. A well-fitting sports bra will reduce friction on the nipples and lessen breast tenderness post-run. If your nipples are still bothering you, try applying an anti-chaffing product or place an adhesive bandage over the area before you workout.

Even with the proper apparel, you may still notice some tenderness during the second half of your cycle. If the pain is severe, you can try taking a mild anti-inflammatory, soaking in a warm bath or wearing a bra to bed that evening to keep your breasts supported as you sleep.

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