October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it is important that this month, and every month, we continue to focus on preventing and treating this disease. While raising awareness means listening to the voices of survivors, it also means talking about different ways that you can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, so that we can work towards beating it once and for all. Currently, there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, and different risk factors that you cannot control increase your chances. But there are some things that you can control that can reduce your risk!
Avoid Hormone Exposure
The amount of estrogen a woman has in her body will increase or decrease her chances of developing breast cancer. If you are exposed to large amounts of estrogen your whole life, for example, from foods, chemicals, birth control pills, and even post-menopausal hormones, then you are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.
Keep Your Weight In Check
Maintaining a healthy weight is key to avoiding obesity, which is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause. In obese women with a BMI (body mass index) over 25, estrogen-sensitive breast tissue is exposed to more estrogen than in women of a healthy weight. In order to stay at a healthy weight, get plenty of exercise and follow a healthy diet.
Eat A Healthy Diet
Eat your vegetables! That’s an order that you have probably been hearing since you were a kid, and it holds true as you are older. Good nutrition can help to prevent certain cancers, including breast cancer. Try to incorporate fresh vegetables, fruits, and healthy fish into your meals if you can. Aim for 8 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Exercising at least 30 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week will help lower your chances of developing breast cancer by helping to boost immune function and by lowering the level of estrogen in your body. In fact, regular exercise can reduce your chances of the disease by 25%. The exercise or physical activity you do does not have to be intense, you can take a brisk walk, dance, or ride your bike – just pick something that you enjoy and will stick with!
More sleep can increase your overall quality of life, and can lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer. One study found that women who were chronically sleep-deprived developed more aggressive forms of breast cancer. So, try to develop a calming nighttime routine, turn off your devices, and get your 8 hours in!
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption increases your risk of breast cancer, even if you are only drinking a moderate amount. It is best to avoid alcohol when you can, and if you do drink, try not to drink more than 1 alcoholic beverage a day.
Smoking has been directly linked to breast cancer, as well as to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cancers. Research shows that women who smoke in their teenage years are more likely to develop breast cancer before menopause. If you do not smoke, then don’t start, and if you do, it would be in your best interest to quit. There are many organizations that can help you quit if you need assistance, or you can talk to your doctor about prescription or over-the-counter quit-smoking aids.
One of the best ways to reduce your risk is by getting screened regularly. You should be regularly checking your breasts in the shower and reporting any changes to your doctor right away. Regular self-exams as well as checkups by your doctor are especially important if you have dense breasts (meaning that there is more tissue than fat in your breasts), because this increases your risk of breast cancer by 6 times.
Screenings done by your doctor are typically based on risk factors and age. For women:
- With an average risk of breast cancer, exams will start in their 20s and happen every 1-3 years into their 30s.
- Ages 40-44, annual screenings with a mammogram are by request.
- Ages 45-54, annual mammograms are recommended every year.
- Ages 55 and older, mammograms are recommended every other year.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, then it is important that you perform regular self-exams, as well as take the necessary steps to reduce your chances of developing the disease. Adopting a healthy lifestyle will not only make you healthier in general, but it will also decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer. And if you are diagnosed with cancer, then maintaining a healthy lifestyle will improve your chances of surviving the disease. Cancer is a scary word, but you can do your best to avoid it, and beat it if necessary by remaining as healthy as possible.