Seven Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk
Let’s face facts. There isn’t a one, true lifestyle that you can live that will guarantee you’ll be cancer free. There are just too many risk factors that are out of our control that contribute to getting breast cancer: our family history, age, gender (yes, even being a woman is a risk factor), that there’s not a 100% effective way to avoid getting breast cancer. But, with simple adjustments to our day to day habits, there are ways that we can lower our risk.
Keep an eye on the scale. Being overweight increases your breast cancer risk, especially for women that have reached menopause. Why? Most of your estrogen is stored in your fat cells after menopause. By having more fatty tissue, you increase your chance of raising your estrogen levels. And estrogen stimulates breast cell division and supports the growth of estrogen-responsive tumors. Women who are overweight also tend to have higher levels of insulin, which has been linked to an increased risk to breast cancer.
Get moving. One way to keep pounds off? Regular exercise. Many studies indicate that physical activity can be a breast-healthy habit and that there can be up to a 25% difference in breast cancer rates between highly active and sedentary women. As little as 2½ hours of brisk walking per week can dramatically reduce your risk by up to 18%. Don’t believe us? Both the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Cancer Society recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity to help keep the weight off and the heart healthy.
Eat your veggies. Another great way to lose weight and lower your risk? A healthy diet. It’s been proven that what you eat can affect the levels of estrogen in the bloodstream. Diets low in fat and high in fiber may decrease the levels of estrogen in the body. And though it may sound counter-intuitive, phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) found in foods like soybeans, tofu, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and certain spices and herbs can actually decrease your breast cancer risk as they may prevent stronger human estrogens from binding to estrogen receptors. We also recommend following the Mediterranean Diet; one that is rich in fish, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and lower in red meat and dairy. It’s recently been shown by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition to have been associated with a lower rate of heart disease and cancer, including breast cancer.
Squash your butts. Please…tell us you don’t smoke. It’s dirty, stinky, and expensive. Not only that, the detrimental effects from smoking have been widely known for decades. A major cause of lung and heart disease, this nasty habit has also recently been linked to an increase in risk to breast cancer, especially in perimenopausal women (coincidentally the highest at-risk age group for breast cancer). We also suggest that you distance yourself from those that do smoke. Secondhand smoke, while not officially linked to an increase in breast cancer, is still dangerous as you can breathe in the nicotine and other toxic chemicals just as a smoker would, but without the perceived ‘safety’ of a cigarette filter.
Cut down on alcohol. Women that have 2 - 5 alcoholic drinks per day have been shown to have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who only have one drink per day (or abstain completely). Studies have even shown that as little as 3 to 6 glasses of wine a week can contribute to an increase in breast cancer risk. If you do choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to a drink or two at special occasions and try not to make a habit of heavy drinking. Besides breast cancer, excessive alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of developing mouth, esophageal, liver, and colorectal cancers.
Control menopause without the hormones. Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, was used often in the past to help control hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms of menopause. But research now indicates that postmenopausal women who take a combination of estrogen and progestin for an extended period of time may be more at risk for breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about other options besides HRT to control your menopause symptoms including increased physical activity.
Watch your surroundings. Avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation and environmental pollution. Medical-imaging methods, including CT scans, use high doses of radiation, which have been linked with increased breast cancer risk. Limit your exposure to radiation by only performing these tests when absolutely necessary. There’s also emerging research that may link breast cancer to exposure to high concentrations of household cleaning products, certain plastics, pesticides, and vehicle fumes, due to these chemicals containing estrogen-like properties.
We know that lifestyle changes can seem difficult at first, but with a little effort and willpower, they can be made into reality. Set small goals and work toward them one at a time. Healthy habits may mean the difference between higher risk vs. living cancer free. It may be hard to do at first, but stay focused and determined. After all, we all know there is no force equal to that of a determined woman.