My work involves daily conversations with women diagnosed with breast cancer, either undergoing treatment or preparing for surgery, seeking support from Masthead products. However, I also speak with many women seeking ways to reduce their risk of breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, over a quarter-million women developed invasive breast cancer last year, with an additional 50,000 diagnosed with pre-invasive DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ). These numbers are expected to rise slightly in 2023, following recent trends.
The statistics don’t account for the significant impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on the healthy loved ones who put their lives on hold to assist with treatment decisions and caregiving.
Breast cancer is not totally up to chance or genetics. There are proven things you can do to reduce your chances of breast cancer. It’s up to each of us to try and incorporate habits to reduce this risk.
Let’s look at the things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer.
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. Make it a habit to choose healthy snacks like fresh fruits and veggies, whole wheat crackers, protein rich energy bars, or yogurt. Have these foods accessible at work, school or travel, so that you don’t resort to fast food when the hunger pangs arrive.
Get enough Sleep
We all know that a good night’s sleep helps reduce stress. But even more powerful information comes from a Japanese study showed that those who regularly had fewer than six hours of sleep 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.
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.
Get BMI (body mass index) Under Control
Don’t be afraid of the scale. It can keep you alive! 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 by 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. Your BMI should be less than 26. Click here to calculate your BMI.
Reduce Alcohol Intake
Most people notice that the quality of their sleep is affected by alcohol, but even more importantly, 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. The lead author of another study warns “There is no level of alcohol use that is completely safe in terms of breast cancer.”
Occasional psychological stress has not been found to cause cancer, but long-lasting stress 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. Relaxation techniques, improved time management practices, and dealing proactively with the issues in our life that are causing anxiety can also help.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body and those around you. If you smoke, stop. If you are frequently exposed to second-hand smoke, find a way to eliminate it. 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, who are exposed to second-hand smoke. There are many, many services and products to help people quit smoking and in turn help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Know your History
Talk to your family members about cancers that have developed in previous generations. There is a copious amount of information on genetic mutations that lead to cancers in families. Genetic counselors can provide help interpreting that information as science evolves. Even if it’s a male relative with a non-breast cancer, you should know your family history of breast cancer and the risk it might present to you and your children. Knowledge is power.
See your Doctor
Keep up with your screenings and other health practices to reduce your risk of getting sick. Make sure to visit your primary care physician and OB-GYN for a yearly check-up, shingles and flu vaccines, and to have your mammogram, pap smear and colonoscopy. If you are concerned about the risk of breast cancer posed by your family history, bring that up with your physicians as well.
Most of us already practice some of these healthy habits, but we can always do more to take care of ourselves and stay out of the hospital or clinic. Isn’t living a longer, healthier life worth it?