Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States, with 1 in 8 being affected by the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Fortunately, there are ways a woman can lower her risk. Like many cancers, risk can be significantly reduced by living a healthy lifestyle, and a few simple changes to health habits can make a big difference. Here’s where to start.
Know Your Personal and Family History
It’s important to know your personal and family history of cancer as well as other risk factors. You may be at high risk for breast cancer if you have a strong family history of breast and related cancers, an inherited breast cancer gene abnormality, a prior history of breast cancer, a prior breast biopsy that showed early abnormal breast changes, or if you received radiation therapy for acne or Hodgkin’s disease as a girl or young woman. Get information about any type of cancer in your blood relatives from both your mother and father’s sides of the family. Also, find out each relative’s age at the time of cancer diagnosis. Be sure to share this information with your doctor and update your file if any new cancer diagnoses are made. If you have had a breast biopsy, get a copy of your pathology report and discuss it with your doctor. Certain types of non-cancerous breast changes may increase your risk of breast cancer in the future.
Avoid Taking Extra Hormones
It’s best to avoid exposing your body to extra hormones, such as estrogen and progestin, which are contained in medications such as birth control pills and menopausal hormone replacement therapy. Consider nonhormonal solutions, such as an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception, lubrication for vaginal dryness, and meditation and acupuncture for hot flashes. If you feel that you require hormonal medication to improve or to maintain your quality of life, talk to your doctor. You can limit your risk by taking the lowest dose for the shortest time possible.
Get to A Healthy Weight And Stick To It
Keeping to a healthy weight is important for breast cancer risk reduction. Ask your doctor what is considered a healthy weight range for your height and body type. A recalculation is necessary during and after pregnancy. If you’re within the range, proper diet and exercise can help you maintain it. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about safe ways to modify your diet and increase your physical activity level. Cutting calories makes the biggest difference. Girls who stay at a healthy weight and keep physically active are less likely to have early puberty and more likely to maintain these healthy habits as adults.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is important throughout your life. Try to get at least 3-4 hours of exercise a week, but 5-7 hours is better. Consider working with a certified trainer. Mix it up in order to keep it fun and help you sustain it over time. Trying new things will help you find physical activities that best fit your style and schedule. Something as simple as walking with a friend is a great way to socialize AND get the benefits of exercise.
Limit Alcohol Use
The risk of breast cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. It’s best to reduce consumption to 3-4 or fewer drinks per week. Less is better. All types of alcohol count: wine, beer, and hard liquor. Drinking less also will help you maintain your weight and function at your best.
Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds and spices as your main course ingredients for most meals. They are your key source of nutrients with relatively few calories. Choose different colors of produce to obtain the full spectrum of complementary nutrients that your body needs. Fruits, vegetables, and grains also provide important daily fiber that helps you feel fuller after eating and keeps your bowels moving.
Avoid Empty Calories
Avoid high-calorie foods and drinks that offer little nutritional value. Think of each meal and snack as an opportunity for healthy nourishment. For example, rather than an apple granola bar with few nutrients and lots of added sweeteners, enjoy an apple and a handful of low-fat granola instead. Limit your soda and juice, drinking these only adds empty calories to your diet.
Cook Real Food
Get your food from the farm, not the factory. When you cook real food from scratch you know much more about each ingredient. Homemade foods usually contain higher-quality ingredients, lower calories, and fewer additives. Processed prepared foods are often full of fat, sugar, salt, fillers, fake ingredients, and preservatives, and are often high in calories. Restaurant food is usually loaded with hidden calories, too. You can save money and keep your weight down by cooking at home. When you do eat out, plan ahead. Eat something light and healthy before going out in order to avoid overeating once you get there. When ordering, stick to small portion sizes or two appetizers rather than an appetizer and entree. Cooking real food at home is also an opportunity to promote and sustain a family habit of eating healthy and having family meals. If we set the example, our children are more likely to eat well throughout their lifetimes.
Your cells experience many insults and injuries throughout the day from the normal wear and tear of living. The good news is, your body has great capacity to heal the damage, keep your cells growing normally, and make you feel good. Repair is a continuous process, but much of the healing and internal housekeeping occurs at night. So it’s important to get enough sleep by limiting caffeine use, keeping your bedroom quiet and dark, minimizing daytime naps, managing snoring and hot flashes, and avoiding other interruptions.
Vote at the Cash Register and the Polls
Public awareness about the environment has played a critical role in creating better policies and procedures to protect people and the planet. Growing consumer demand has made so many more healthy options available. Vote at the cash register by choosing healthy products and vote at the polls for laws that require environmentally responsible methods of farming, manufacturing, energy production, food preparation, water treatment, and new product development. Everything is at stake.
If you have any questions or would like more information, contact Surgical Associates today.
Marisa C. Weiss, M.D, Joan Ruderman, Ph.D. “A Step-By-Step Guide to Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer” [accessed October, 2018], pp. 11–18