How to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer
You've probably heard the statistics: about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer at one point in their life. With such odds against women, the good news is that there are certain steps every woman can take to help reduce their risk of developing the illness.
Research from a large women’s health study, which followed over 100,000 women over a 28-year period, found that consuming more than two drinks a day increased the risk of breast cancer by 43 percent, compared to those who don’t drink at all. That’s because alcohol changes the way oestrogen is metabolised in the body, which can lead to oestrogen dominance. Still, many people believe the heart benefits of drinking alcohol, especially red wine, outweigh any breast cancer risks. But it’s important to know that there are other ways to keep your heart healthy besides having a few vinos.
Tip: If you do choose to drink, limit yourself to no more than 1 standard drink a day and opt for 2 alcohol-free days a week.
Eat A Rainbow
Research continues to produce promising evidence that what you eat can affect your breast cancer risk. Research from Harvard Medical School showed that women with higher circulating carotenoid levels are at a reduced risk. Why? Carotenoids, a type of phytonutrient found mainly in leafy greens, carrots and capsicum have been found to have anticarcinogenic properties. Other phytonutrients that block the formation of harmful free radicals that may corrode breast cells include sulforaphane (found in cruciferous vegetables) and lycopene (the chemical that gives tomatoes their red colour).
Tip: Aim to eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. This isn’t as hard as you think. One serving equals 1 medium apple, banana or orange, or 1/2 cup of chopped vegetables. Whilst fresh is always best, it doesn’t matter if they’re tinned, frozen or dried – it all counts.
Get A Move On
Countless studies show that regular exercise provides powerful protection against breast cancer. However, recent research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute discovered that one of the ways in which cardiovascular exercise reduces the risk of developing breast cancer is by altering the way that the hormone oestrogen is broken down and metabolised. Exercise also helps with weight management, which is widely known to have a positive impact on countless aspects of our health.
Tip: The American Cancer Society recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or cycling each week. ‘Moderate’ means a noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate.
Once A Month
One thing’s for sure - the better you know your breasts, the more likely you’ll be to notice if something out-of-the-ordinary - and potentially dangerous - pops up. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump. In addition, all women should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular health examination at least every two years when having a Pap Smear. Annual exams and mammograms are recommended after the age of 40.
Tip: Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. When you notice any changes, don’t put off seeing your doctor. The sooner something is detected, the better the chances of remission.
Apparent links between psychological stress and cancer could arise in several ways. For example, people under stress may develop unhealthy behaviours, such as smoke, lack exercise, overeat or drink alcohol, which increase a person’s risk for cancer.
Action: Although the theory that stress causes cancer is still controversial, reducing your stress levels will undoubtedly be beneficial for your overall health. So-called “mindful measures, ” such as meditation, yoga, visualisation exercises, and meditation may be valuable additions to your daily or weekly routine. Not only do these types of activities reduce cortisol (stress hormones), but also bolsters “feel good” hormone, serotonin, and supporting healthy immunity – an important element for fighting cancer.
Maintain A Heathy Weight
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing the disease as well as reduce your risk of surviving it. That’s because extra fat cells mean more oestrogen in the body, which encourage breast cancer cells to develop and grow. The risk appears to be higher if the extra fat is around the mid-section.
Tip: The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about short-term dietary changes. It’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular physical activity, and balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses. Find what works for you and stick with it!
Ditch The Smokes
In recent years, 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.
Tip: It is well known that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer and raises the risk of many other illnesses, such as heart disease, so not smoking is always a smart health choice. If you do smoke, use every resource you can to quit.
Know Your Family History
If a woman's first-degree relative (mothers, sisters, daughters) developed breast cancer, a woman's risk is almost doubled. Still, the majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or other cancers, blood tests may help identify mutations or other genes that are being passed through your family.
Kathleen Alleaume is an Exercise and Nutrition Scientist and Author of What’s Eating You?