Take your health into your own hands by following a healthy lifestyle to help prevent breast cancer from forming. Eating healthy, exercising, and not smoking are protective measures you can take to lower your risk of breast cancer. Unhealthy lifestyle choices can lead to risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing cancer. Not all risk factors are in your control, such as your family history, but in this blog, we’ll address several things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of malignant cells that form in the tissues of the breasts. One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer, and it is the second most common type of cancer in American women. This type of cancer is always caused by a genetic abnormality, but only 5-10 percent of the abnormalities are inherited from your parents. The remaining 85-90 percent are due to genetic abnormalities from the aging process and normal “wear and tear” of life in general.
What preventative measures I can take to lower my risk for breast cancer?
The more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. Based on general research, it is recommended to limit your alcohol intake to less than one drink per day. Those who have two to three drinks per day have about a 20 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who don’t drink alcohol.
Prior to menopause, your estrogen is primarily made by your ovaries, but a small amount is made by your fat tissues. After menopause, most estrogen sources come from fat tissue. If your body has more fat tissue—you are overweight or obese—after menopause, your estrogen levels can spike and lead to a higher chance of getting breast cancer. Overweight women also tend to have higher blood insulin levels. Talk with your doctor about what a healthy weight is for your body.
In addition to eating and drinking healthy, you also need to exercise. Studies show that moderate to vigorous physical activity is linked to lowering your risk for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity throughout the week. The increased activity affects the body’s weight, inflammation, hormones, and energy balance and can help lower the risk of breast cancer.
Estrogen levels may remain low while a woman is still breastfeeding. Studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower the risk of breast cancer, especially if it is continued for 1 ½ to 2 years after the child’s birth, but it is difficult to study in countries where breastfeeding for this long is uncommon. The possible explanation for this effect may be that breastfeeding reduces the total number of a woman’s lifetime menstrual cycles.
Limit dose and duration of postmenopausal systemic hormone therapy
Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer, and it can also increase the likelihood that cancer may be found at a more advanced stage. If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about alternative options. If you decide the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works best for you. Make sure to have your doctor monitor the length of time you are taking hormones, so you can discuss possibilities for your health in the future.
New evidence suggests if you are a woman and smoke, this can increase your breast cancer risk. Smoking can cause harm to women of any age, but it causes a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women. For postmenopausal women, research has reflected a correlation between heavy second-hand smoke exposure and breast cancer risk. By choosing to stop smoking, it ensures better health and decreases the chance of breast cancer for yourself and for those around you.
What else can I do?
- Be conscious of breast cancer detection.
- If you notice any changes in your breast, like a new lump or skin changes, consult your doctor.
- Also, ask your doctor when to begin mammograms and other screenings.
- If you have a strong family history of breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer, discuss this with your physician. You may be a candidate for genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. This testing can be ordered by any of associates, and we are fortunate to have an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, Shawna Freeman, on staff, who has obtained her American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Certificate of Women’s Health Genomics.
You are the expert about your own body and medical history, so if you feel something is wrong, consult a doctor. Being extra cautious has no consequences but not scheduling recommended screenings could. Our team of OB/GYN trained associates can provide screenings, testing, and if the results confirm cancer, we will set up treatment options. Contact our office if you have any questions about breast cancer detection or if you’d like to schedule a screening.