Reduce Your Risk for Breast Cancer
One in seven women will get breast cancer over the course of a 90-year lifespan. According the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the leading cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. Although we have no control over certain risk factors such as gender or family history, the good news is that there are things you can do to decrease your risk of getting breast cancer. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, 30 percent of all cancers can be prevented with diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. October is National Breast Cancer awareness month and with that in mind, now is a great time to start thinking about breast cancer prevention. Here are a few tips to minimize your cancer risk while adding years to your life and enjoying all the benefits of great health.
Trim Down and Maintain an Ideal Weight
The chance of developing breast cancer after menopause is higher in women who are overweight or obese. After menopause, nearly one-in-six cases of breast cancer is linked to excess body fat, as is diabetes. Women with diabetes are at far higher risk of heart disease and at higher risk for breast cancer.
Exercise has multiple health benefits such as helping you lose and maintain a lower weight, and improves your cardiovascular health, which adds years to your life. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 45-60 minutes of physical exercise five or more days a week. Regular exercise reduces breast cancer risk by 37%. Regular exercise was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer for 5,624 women aged 20 to 54 years, who were studied for 13.7 years. Compared to women who didn’t exercise, subjects who engaged in “greater leisure-time activity,” lowered their chances of getting breast cancer by more than one-third. Another study found that exercise reduces postmenopausal breast cancer risk by 29 percent. A total of 74,171 women ages 50 to 79 years enjoyed a reduced risk of breast cancer simply by brisk walking from one hour and 15 minutes to two and a half hours per week. The study lasted 4.7 years. Finally, a study shows that women who exercise vigorously more than five times a week have a 38 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who do not exercise. This 12-year study of 90,508 women – 3,424 of whom had breast cancer – found that five hours of vigorous exercise per week produced great benefits in prevention and survival of breast cancer. In one study from the Women’s Health Initiative, “as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman’s risk by 18 percent. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more.”
Watch Your Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol can limit your liver’s ability to control blood levels of the hormone estrogen, which in turn can increase the risk of breast cancer. The Harvard Nurses’ Health study, along with several others, has shown that consuming more than one alcoholic beverage a day can increase breast cancer risk by as much as 20-25 percent. If you are at high risk (which you should discuss with your doctor), it’s probably best to avoid indulging.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
There is no clear proof that stress and anxiety can increase breast cancer risk, but some research suggests that practicing yoga, prayer and meditation to manage stress can strengthen the immune system. Getting adequate restorative sleep can not only add years to your life but can also lower your levels of stress hormones including cortisol – which. in high levels, can contribute to obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
Freshen Your Diet
Fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, berries and cherries are all breast cancer fighters! Whole grains, beans and legumes can help to ease those blood sugar spikes. Try to ward off high glycemic carbohydrates such as white rice, potatoes and refined sugar as these foods may trigger hormonal changes that promote cellular growth in breast tissue. Foods containing flax seeds have been found especially helpful as well.
Be Aware of Hormones
In general, it seems best to try to limit exposure to estrogen. The female hormone estrogen stimulates breast cell growth, so exposure to estrogen over long periods of time, without breaks, can increase the risk of breast cancer. Sidestep hormone disturbers. The most famous one, BPA, is linked to a protein found in up to 30 percent of women with breast cancer. Fortunately, BPA has been removed from virtually all hard-plastic bottles, glasses and pitchers, but most canned foods still come in cans lined with BPA-laced material. Also, most thermal receipts from such places as fast-food restaurants and gas stations are BPA-laden. No widely available substitute has been found for can liners or receipts, but the hunt is on. Meanwhile, try to buy fresh or frozen foods, look for BPA-free cans.
Don’t breathe in tobacco smoke, gasoline fumes, or car exhaust. They have the strongest links to breast cancer risk, so steer totally clear of other people’s tobacco smoke. Avoid inhaling gas fumes when you fill up at the pump, and open garage or storage shed doors for a few minutes before going in. Avoid vehicle exhaust. Keep and try to use outside organic solvents in paints, paint strippers, and glues. Air out fresh dry cleaning in the garage or on a porch before bringing it in. Try to find a “green” dry cleaner that doesn’t use trichloroethylene or perchloroethylene; both solvents are health worries. If solvents are reported in your local water supply, add a carbon filter to your taps. Be choosy about personal care and household products. There’s plenty of carcinogen controversy about certain chemicals in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and more. The Environmental Working Group has a cosmetics database of worry-free products, and Green Seal is a good guide to choosing nontoxic cleaners.
Know Your Risk
Perform monthly breast self-exams, get routine screenings and work closely with your healthcare provider. We cannot control our gender, age, race or family history of breast cancer, but early detection can save lives. Talk to your doctor about knowing your personal risk. There are risk-assessment tools available that can help you to determine your personal lifetime risk for developing breast cancer in your lifetime and what you can do to be screened more aggressively and be one step ahead. Early detection and treatment saves lives. If you know your risk and make great lifestyle choices, odds are you will be in the driver’s seat and be one step closer to achieving excellent health!