Because of the nature of my work, I talk almost daily with women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are facing or undergoing surgery or other treatment, often with the support of Masthead bras and recovery kits. But I also talk to many women who simply want to know what they can do to reduce their chances of developing the disease.
This year, the American Cancer Society predicts, 266,000 women will develop invasive breast cancer. That’s a lot of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, and loved ones whose lives are put on hold to undergo treatment or make treatment decisions. Let’s look at the things you can do to reduce your risk:
1. Eat a healthy diet: It is proven that diets rich in fiber, vegetables, fruit, whole grain, and fish reduce your risk, while those heavy in refined sugars and animal fats increase it. Carry healthy snacks like fresh fruits and veggies, whole wheat crackers, KIND bars, or yogurt to work, school or travel, so that you don’t resort to fast food when the hunger pangs arrive.
2. Exercise: Dozens of studies have found a correlation between exercise and a reduced risk of breast, colon and other cancers. Working up a sweat for at least a half hour per day 4 times a week does wonders. Physical exercise improves energy balance, hormone metabolism, and insulin regulation, all of which reduce the unhealthy cell production that leads to cancer. It also helps control weight, maintain healthy bones, keep muscles and joints working, reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of death from heart disease.
3. Get and keep your BMI (body mass index) under 26: More than 30 percent of women are considered obese and another 30 percent are considered overweight when body mass is measured. Obesity is not just linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke, but also to cancer. A new study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology shows that young women who are obese have a 34 percent increased risk of dying of breast cancer. Fat contains estrogen and in young women who are pre-menopausal and have breast cancers with estrogen hormone growth receptors, their cancers grow at a faster rate in the presence of fat. Too many fat cells can produce the extra hormones such as estrogen and insulin growth factors that have been linked to unhealthy breast cell growth. Click here to calculate your BMI.
4. Get at least 6 hours of sleep each night A Japanese study showed that those who regularly had less than six hours of sleep or less every night were much more likely to develop breast cancer than those who got more. Another study showed that women with poor quality and quantity of sleep hours had more aggressive tumors upon diagnosis.
5. Stop smoking and get away from second hand smoke. Researchers at the American Cancer Society have found an increased breast cancer risk among women who smoke, especially those who start smoking before they have their first child. The increased risk also affects women, especially young women exposed to second hand smoke.
6. Reduce stress. Occasional psychological stress has not been found to cause cancer, but psychological stress that lasts a long time may affect a person’s overall health and ability to cope with cancer by activating a specific gene that could compromise the body’s immune system. Exercise is a great way to mitigate the impact of stress.
7. Reduce your alcohol intake Alcohol reduces the liver’s ability to metabolize (reduce the potency of and eliminate from the body) the hormone estrogen. Studies have shown that even one to two drinks a day over a long period of time could increase your risk of breast cancer. In one study, the amount of alcohol in three 4-ounce glasses of wine more than tripled the amount of estrogen in women’s bodies. In another global study done last year, the research concurs and strongly warns women to drink less. “There is no level of alcohol use that is completely safe in terms of breast cancer,” said study lead author Anne McTiernan. “If a woman is drinking, it would be better if she kept it to a lower amount.
8. Make an Appointment with your Primary Care Physician and GYN If you feel like cancer is an overwhelming concern, then engage in proactive health practices to reduce your risk of getting sick (shingles vaccine, flu vaccine). Make sure to visit your primary care physician for a yearly check-up and have your mammogram, pap smear and colonoscopy.