Senior Women: Have a Heart This Holiday Season and Know Your Risks

Heart disease is a scary thing. But we can certainly be thankful for something these days: we know a whole lot more about it, including that it’s absolutely not just a huge risk for men, as many people once believed. In fact, doctors have been trying to get the word out for a long time now that heart disease is actually the number one killer of women in the United States. But it’s not enough that we (hopefully) know this, we also need to know how heart disease looks different in women, so we can recognize it and combat it – and save lives.

The Number 1 Killer of Women

Be honest: what did you think the number 1 killer of women in the U.S. was? Probably breast or a type of gynecological cancer? And you wouldn’t have been alone in not realizing that heart disease is not only the number 1 killer of men in this country, but also the number 1 killer of women. In fact, according to a Cleveland Clinic survey, many people mistakenly believe breast cancer is more of a threat, and scarily, only 20% of millennials knew that heart disease was such a massive threat to women’s health! heart with a rhythm

Not only that, but according to the CDC, despite an increase in awareness over the past decades, only about half (56%) of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer. And worryingly, a 2020 report found a 10-year decline in awareness among women that heart disease is indeed their biggest health threat.

According to Leslie Cho, M.D., director of the Women’s Cardiology Center at the Cleveland Clinic, “I think most people believe that breast cancer, or gynecological cancer, tends to be the biggest killer in women, but it still continues to be heart disease. The reason why that’s so important is because 90% of heart disease comes from risk factors that you can control – blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, diabetes.”

Dr. Cho is right that this can be a very deadly mistake. After all, heart disease killed 301,280 women in 2019, meaning it caused around 1 in every 5 female deaths. And around 1 in 16 women aged 20 and older (6.2%) have coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease in the United States, meaning many more women are at risk of dying.

But knowledge is power! Knowing all this, as Dr. Cho suggested, means we can do something about it. But before we get to prevention, let’s get a little more knowledge about women and their risks. Specifically, let’s talk about what warning signs women should be looking out for.

The Subtle Signs of Heart Disease in Women

We’ve all seen depictions of men having heart attacks on TV, and many of us have been told there are certain signs to look out for. These include classic symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain in the left arm. But the signs of heart disease and resulting issues can be less well-known in women.

According to the American Heart Association journal Circulation, symptoms of heart disease might be more subtle and varied in women than in men. One of the study’s authors, Corrine Jurgens, an associate professor at the Connell School of Nursing at Boston College, says that understanding the differences in symptoms is particularly important for women, since women tend to be diagnosed with heart disease later in life than men. And when women are older, they may have other underlying conditions that could make identifying subtle symptoms of heart disease much more difficult.

So what could you be missing? Check out some of the subtle differences, or ways that diagnosis can be complicated in women:

Heart attack

heart wih lightning bolt in the middle
About 30% of women have atypical symptoms of a heart attack.

It’s true that men are twice as likely as women to have a heart attack, but women need to know how to recognize the symptoms, especially since they can experience more symptoms than men do. Their signs might be more subtle and different from (or in addition to) the classic chest pain and radiating pain in the back, arm, neck, jaw, or arm. Symptoms in women can include nausea, lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, and cold sweats. 

According to Dr. Cho, “30% of women have atypical symptoms, so they tend to have things like shortness of breath, or extreme fatigue, so if you feel these symptoms, especially with exertion, it’s really important to go and be seen by your physician.”

Heart failure 

This condition, which usually occurs after a heart attack, usually presents itself as shortness of breath, but symptoms usually build up over time and can also include upset stomach, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, mood changes, and trouble with memory. But women with heart failure have a wider variety of symptoms, such as sweating, unusual swelling, heart palpitations, and feelings of heartburn, which are often accompanied by depression and anxiety. That means it can be hard to determine whether symptoms (like fatigue) are due to depression, heart disease, or both.

Arrhythmia

An irregular heartbeat often doesn’t have any symptoms in men, but women might experience a fluttering in the chest, meaning they have a better chance of detection if they know what to look out for!

Peripheral artery disease

This condition occurs when cholesterol builds up in the arteries that carry blood to the extremities, usually the legs, and can lead to amputation and can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. There are symptoms that accompany it, including leg and foot pain or heaviness, difficulty walking, and leg heaviness. While both sexes often chalk the symptoms up to other conditions of older age, women are especially likely to confuse the symptoms with conditions that affect the bones. 

Heart valve disease 

This occurs when one or more valves in the heart doesn’t work properly, and can lead to a complication called aortic stenosis, or when the valve that allows blood to flow from the heart to the rest of the body is narrowed, restricting that blood flow. While men are more likely to experience chest pain with valve disease, women tend to report more trouble catching their breath, especially when or after exercising.

Reducing Your Risk

So now we know more about what women should be looking out for, and the dangers of mistaking symptoms of heart problems with symptoms of other conditions seen in older women. But now it’s time to look at ways of reducing your risk in the first place!  To lower your risk of developing heart disease, it’s important to:

  • Manage your stress
  • Know your blood pressure, and keep it under control
  • Get tested for diabetescigarettes with a prohibited sign over them
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to one or fewer drinks per day
  • Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains

To all you women out there: we know you’ve got big hearts, but we also want them to be healthy hearts! That means knowing 3 things: that women are at a very big risk of dying from heart disease, that there are subtler signs of it in women than in men (or that it can be mistaken for other conditions), and that there are ways to reduce your risk. Just that little bit of knowledge can make all the difference, and save your life!

Co-written by Joanna Bowling

What is Metastatic Breast Cancer? Symptoms & Treatments

“Breast cancer” can be two of the scariest words for a woman to hear. But we now know so much more about this disease and can do so much more to combat it. The first thing all women can and should do is regularly check for lumps in their breasts because if they don’t, they could miss something potentially serious. For example, if breast cancer is not detected early, it can become metastatic stage 4 breast cancer, also referred to as advanced breast cancer. Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day is on Oct. 13, so to help bring more awareness to this disease, we will go over the symptoms and treatment options. 

What Is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

When cancer cells spread, it is known as metastasis. So metastatic breast cancer is cancer that starts in the breast tissue and then spreads to other parts of the body, specifically to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer can also spread to other locations, like the bones, lungs, skin, brain, and other parts of the body.

illustration of a woman's body with red around the breast

Doctors can diagnose metastatic breast cancer generally by using an ultrasound exam, an MRI, blood samples, or a breast biopsy of cells or tissues.

Symptoms

The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can be different from those of early-stage breast cancer, but not necessarily always. And sometimes stage 4 metastatic breast cancer can have no symptoms at all. But, in general, some of the most common signs that breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body are:

  • Bone pain or bone fractures due to tumor cells spreading to the bones or spinal cord
  • Headaches or dizziness when cancer has spread to the brain
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain, caused by lung cancer
  • Jaundice or stomach swelling

So, if breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, your symptoms will usually vary depending on what part of the body the cancer has spread to. For example, if cancer has spread to the bones, you may experience pain, fractures, or decreased alertness due to high calcium levels. 

Treatment Options

Having stage 4 breast cancer might sound scary, and you might feel hopeless, but it is possible to treat it. When dealing with metastatic breast cancer, the treatment is based on systemic therapies, in which drugs are used rather than surgery or radiation. 

With systemic therapies, drugs can be used to try to shrink the tumors and slow their growth. Four different kinds of drug-based treatments can help:

  1. Hormone therapy– This type of treatment will block hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which help some types of breast cancers to grow. Blocking the hormones will slow down the cancer’s progression.

    bag of fluid in an IV
    Chemotherapy will help to attack the cancer cells in your body using aggressive drugs.
  2. Chemotherapy– Given through an IV over the course of several weeks, chemotherapy will help to attack the cancer cells in your body using aggressive drugs.
  3. Targeted drugs–  In addition to chemotherapy, there are also newer treatments that use targeted therapies to block types of proteins and gene mutations that help breast cancer grow. Targeted drugs are sometimes combined with chemotherapy or hormone therapy.
  4. Immunotherapies–  Also known as immune checkpoint inhibitors, these are helpful in stimulating the immune system to destroy cancer cells in certain types of breast cancers. 

Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

It might not be easy to accept a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. All of the emotions and feelings you might be going through if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with it are completely normal. There are support groups that can help, or ask your doctor to refer you to a good therapist. 

In terms of your physical health, as you try different treatment options, it is important to try and eat a nutritious diet to feel stronger and tolerate the treatment. You can also try and exercise as much as you are able to, in order to boost your mind and body.

Additional Help

While dealing with all the emotions of a breast cancer diagnosis and all the physical effects of treatments, it’s very important to have comprehensive healthcare coverage. But before purchasing a health insurance plan, make sure you understand what coverage it offers, and make sure it will cover all of the medications and treatment you will need. If you’re not sure what plan is right for you, speak to an EZ agent! EZ agents are highly trained and knowledgeable and will sort through all available plans to make sure that you’re completely covered throughout the lengthy process of treating your cancer. 

We offer a wide range of health insurance plans from top-rated insurance companies in every state. And because we work with so many companies, and can offer all of the plans available in your area, we can find you a plan that saves you a lot of money – even hundreds of dollars – even if you don’t qualify for a subsidy. There is no obligation, or hassle, just free quotes on all available plans in your area. To get free instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a local agent, call 888-350-1890.

Women’s Health Has Been Improving Over The Years, Continue The Trend With EZ

Did you know that in the past 30 years, the average woman’s life expectancy has increased from 79 to 81? Now, that might seem like a small change, but it is a big step in the right direction. Women’s health has been improving thanks to all of the significant advancements in the past few decades, and the focus on improving women’s health doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. There is no better time than now to continue this trend by getting checked, and what better way to do this than with the help of EZ, and a great insurance plan? 

Some Interesting Facts

cigarettes placed next to each other going downward on s graph
The percentage of American adult women who smoke has decreased from 28% to 16% in the past 30 years.

Smoking & Lung Cancer Rates Are Down

In 1963, a shocking 34% of American women were smokers. It was not until 1964, when the first federal report outlined all of the harmful effects of smoking, that there was a push to change that. So now, with all of the knowledge available to women, not to mention all of the smoking cessation programs that are covered by health insurance, the percentage of women who smoke – and lung cancer rates – have dramatically decreased. The percentage of American adult women who smoke has decreased from 28% to 16% in the past 30 years.

Heart Disease Is Becoming Less of a Threat

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, and the scary thing is that women can experience a heart attack without the chest pressure we associate with cardiac events, which can lead to dangerous delays in treatment. Fortunately, the signs of a cardiac event in women are now more well-known, so women have the knowledge they need to take charge of their health. Thanks to many federally-funded programs that have made women more aware of the risk factors for heart disease, the number of women who die from heart disease has decreased from 1 in 3 to 1 in 4 women.

Breast Cancer Deaths Are Declining

Nowadays, over 90% of breast cancers found in the early stages can be successfully treated, and fortunately, breast cancer is now also being detected earlier. This means that the average death rate for the disease has gone down nearly 2% per year in the past 10 years. This good news might be due to the fact that women are taking more initiative to examine themselves and get checked immediately when they feel a lump, or feel that something isn’t right, and are also more likely to get annual screenings. In 1990, only half of all American women over 50 years old had had a mammogram within the past 2 years. Now, 73% of women over 50 years old have had a mammogram in the past 2 years. This has led to an estimated 10% drop in breast cancer deaths.

How You Can Continue This Trend

hand with money in it and another hand with a red cross in it
EZ will help you find an affordable plan with great coverage.

Women’s health has progressed more than anyone could imagine, and although all of the above is great news, there is still so much more work to do. The best way to continue the upward trend of women’s health is to stay on top of your own health by getting any screenings that you need, or participating in programs that will improve your health. An EZ agent can help you with this: we will devote our time and resources to making sure you have the best health insurance possible – insurance that is affordable and that still provides the coverage you need. Don’t let lack of insurance, or a subpar plan, stop you from getting the care you need!

EZ offers a wide range of health insurance plans from top-rated insurance companies in every state. And because we work with so many companies and can offer all of the plans available in your area, we can find you a plan that saves you a lot of money – even hundreds of dollars – even if you don’t qualify for a subsidy. There is no obligation, or hassle, just free quotes on all available plans in your area. To get free instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a local agent, call 888-350-1890.

Cancer Rates Are Dropping For African American Men & Women

For decades, African Americans have dealt with many systemic inequalities in this country, including unequal access to healthcare, which has led to big disparities in the health of African Americans and Caucasians even today. However, the tides are slowly turning, and almost every marker of health seems to be improving for African Americans. For example, according to a study by the American Cancer Society, African Americans have long had a higher mortality rate for cancer than Caucasians have had, but death rates for African American men and women have actually been decreasing significantly over the last several years. 

Cancers That Most Affect African Americans

blur ribbon for prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in African American men.

According to the CDC, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in African American men, and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in African American women. Each makes up nearly one-third of cancers diagnosed in each gender. Lung and colorectal cancers are the second and third most commonly diagnosed cancers in both African American men and women.

Slow Improvements

Although African Americans still have the highest death rate and the lowest survival rate of any racial group for most cancers, the overall cancer death rate for that group has been dropping. In fact, the death rate for African Americans decreased 25% from 1999 to 2015.

In the American Cancer Society’s report, Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2019-2021, they give numbers on new cancer cases, deaths, survival, screening test use, and risk factors for African Americans. They found:

  • From 2006 to 2015, the overall cancer death rate declined faster among African American men and women than among Caucasian men and women in the US. 
    • Rates for African American men declined 2.6%  per year vs. 1.6% for Caucasian men.
    • Rates for African American women declined 1.5%  per year vs. 1.3% for Caucasian women.
  • Continuous declines in death rates for the past 25 years have resulted in more than 462,000 fewer cancer deaths.
  • Among men, the overall cancer death rate was 47% higher for African Americans than for Caucasians in 1990, but only 19% higher in 2016.
  • Among women, the death rates decreased from 19% to 13% over the same period, with the gap nearly disappearing for some age groups.

“Seeing the substantial progress made over the past several decades in reducing Black-white disparities in cancer mortality is incredibly gratifying,” said Len Lichtenfeld, MD, interim chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “This progress is driven in large part by drops in the lung cancer death rate driven by more rapid decreases in smoking over the past 40 years in Blacks than in whites. To continue this progress, we need to expand access to high-quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment for all Americans.”

Closing The Gap

Despite numbers going down, diagnoses of cancer and the cancer mortality rate are still high for African Americans because they often face more risk factors, as well as access to healthcare that is still often unequal – for example, African Americans tend to be screened for cancer less often than Caucasians. stethoscope hanging over a clear box with a glove box in it

With that being said, though, there are more ways to access quality healthcare now than ever before, which is hopeful. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has helped millions of Americans access better healthcare, and the extension of premium tax credits to more households, health insurance is more accessible to everyone. Not only that, but Medicare has been slowly expanding its benefits to cover more and reduce out-of-pocket costs. All of this has helped narrow the gap, along with African Americans themselves taking control and seeking more care, and taking better care of themselves with the better resources available to them. 

What Can You Do?

To help prevent cancer, you need to get screened regularly, go to your annual doctor visits, and take your medications! Other things you can do to continue to beat the odds is to adopt a healthier lifestyle that includes exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. You should also make sure you have access to affordable, quality healthcare, which you can do by adding a Medicare Supplement Plan onto your existing Medicare Parts A and B. Remember, Medicare will cover most of your treatments and medications, but Part B will only pay for 80% of your expenses, leaving you to pay the remaining 20% out-of-pocket. That 20% can really add up, but if you have a Medicare Supplement Plan, your plan will cover many of these costs. 

There are 10 different Medicare Supplement Plans to choose from, so it’s important to compare each one and find the plan that suits your medical needs and saves you money. EZ agents work with the top-rated insurance companies in the country and can compare plans for you in minutes, at no cost to you. To get free instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a licensed local agent, call 888-753-7207. No hassle or obligation.

Is This Normal? A Revealing Look at Breasts

It’s time to talk about “the girls.” October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so there’s going to be a lot of focus on preventing, detecting, and fighting breast cancer this month – and all of that is incredibly important! But since we’re already focused a few inches below your collarbone, let’s take this time to look at (or talk about, sorry) all aspects of your breasts and answer some of the common questions people with breasts have about them. What’s “normal”? Is there anything you should be concerned about and what are some common issues that often crop up? And do you need some support in your relationship with your dynamic duo?

Why Am I, Um, Lopsided?

a green lime next to an orange
It’s normal for breasts to be uneven or lopsided.

Here’s the thing: there are very few things in nature that are perfectly symmetrical, and breasts are no different. It’s perfectly normal for one breast to be larger than the other, even by a whole cup size! This asymmetry might be more pronounced while you’re developing during puberty, or even after breastfeeding, if your baby preferred one side (and stretched it out – thanks, baby!); if you’re bothered by the way it looks in clothing, you can try buying a bra in the bigger size and adding a pad to the smaller side – but remember, you are certainly not in the minority if your breasts look different, and you shouldn’t stress about it. 

Should I Be Checking Myself and What If I Feel a Lump?

Doctors used to be pretty militant about doing self exams on a rigid schedule, but nowadays they’re giving more relaxed advice, so that people with breasts don’t panic over every change they feel. The advice now is to combine knowing your breasts well (the way you might know the moles on your body) with getting yearly exams, and talking to your doctor about any concerning changes. 

And if you do find an unusual lump? First, don’t panic. Next, speak to your doctor, keeping in mind that it is not necessarily cancer, and might be one of those benign lumps that comes and goes on its own, especially if you are younger. Keep in mind also that you’re not going to be whisked off to emergency surgery just because you found an unusual lump, so don’t let that put you off speaking to your doctor. 

Finally, it’s important to remember that lumps are not the only symptom of breast cancer, so, again, make sure you know your breasts well and take note of any other kinds of changes, like discharge, dimpling, pulling in, retraction of the nipple, a persistent rash, or pain. 

What’s With the Itching?

If you’ve got boobs, it’s happened to you: the dreaded itchy nip. Breasts are just skin and, as such, are subject to itchiness just like any other part of your body, so there’s usually no need to worry about needing to have a good scratch; most likely, it’s due to dry skin, hormonal fluctuations, or irritation from detergents or body care products. 

If your girls are always itching, though, or if you have an itchy rash, talk to your doctor: these symptoms could indicate a condition called Paget’s disease, which can be associated with breast cancer.

Can a Healthy Diet Also Benefit the Boobs?

While researchers are still figuring out exactly how much certain healthy foods can reduce your risk of cancer, there are some promising studies surrounding the following foods and breast cancer risk: mixed nuts on a plater

  • Nuts – All types have phytosterols, which have been shown in lab and animal studies to inhibit tumor development; varieties with fatty acids could also help with PMS-related soreness.
  • Cruciferous veggies – Broccoli, kale, cabbage, and other good stuff like that contain glucosinolates, which some studies suggest break down into compounds that appear to inhibit the development of cancer cells.
  • Mushrooms – One Chinese study found that eating around 10 grams of fungi a day reduced breast cancer risk by 64%.
  • Legumes – Beans and lentils also contain phytosterols, and a Harvard University study showed that women who ate legumes at least twice a week had a 24% lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate them less than once a month.

With all of that being said, it’s important to take recommendations about cancer-fighting foods with a grain of salt: there is no one magic food that will take away your risk, and it’s important to remember that an all-around healthy lifestyle is important for helping to reduce your risk.

Ouch! Why Do They Hurt?

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but you might find that your breasts feel sore, or even swollen, lumpy or tender right before your period, and it’s usually nothing to worry about, it’s just those pesky hormones acting up. The important thing is to know your breasts, so that you can detect any unusual pain or lumpiness. 

Stray Hairs, Darkening Skin, Protruding Nipples – Are My Areolas Normal?

Thinking that there are some funky things going on with your nipples and areolas, the area of darker-colored skin around your nipple? Whatever is happening, unless it’s really out of the ordinary, like discharge, scaliness, or another type of rash, is probably normal, and it’s important to remember that everyone’s areolas and nipples are different colors, sizes, and shapes. They might get darker during pregnancy, and might even stay that way – and, in general, whatever color they are is normal. 

african american woman in a denim shirt holding her pregnant belly
Pregnancy can darken your areolas, and cause your breasts to sag afterwards.

As for nipple protrusion, again, everyone’s are different and some tend to stand at attention more than others – the only thing you would need to get checked out in this regard is if your nipples all of a sudden became inverted, not more prominent, since nipple inversion can be a sign of breast cancer.

Got bumps? Those little bumps all around your nipples are also something that everyones has, so those are nothing to worry about, either: they’re called Montgomery Glands, which are sebaceous glands that produce an oily substance called sebum that lubricates the skin. And those stray hairs? Also completely normal, although a lot of nipple hair may signal a hormonal imbalance like polycystic ovary syndrome; if it’s just a few, you can either leave them or safely pluck ‘em out!

So, Are They Supposed to Sag?

Short answer: yes. Maybe yours are as perky as perky can be, but that is by no means true for everyone, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that everyone’s will eventually lose their bounce – and the elasticity of their skin. What contributes to the southward migration? 

  • Pregnancy – This is the more likely culprit than breastfeeding, contrary to what many people think. During pregnancy, and after birth when your milk comes in (which happens to everyone, even those who don’t breastfeed), your breasts grow and then eventually shrink back down again, and that can stretch the skin and ligaments.
  • Aging – The ligaments holding your breasts up are made of collagen and elastin, which break down as you age.
  • Tanning – Yup, catching too many rays also breaks down collagen.

What doesn’t cause your breasts to sag? Not wearing a bra all the time – the only exception is a sports bra. If you’re going for a run or doing some high impact exercise, keep the girls in lockdown to avoid damaging the ligaments over time.

How Can I Feel Better About Them?

With all of the above being said, it’s important to remember that all breasts are different, and some are going to sag (can we think of a better word for that??) more than others; they also come in all different shapes and sizes, just like their owners – in fact, most are oblong shaped and tend to have nipples that face downward! 

The problem is not with the breasts themselves, the problem is what we’re told what breasts should be and how they should look. Breasts tend to be viewed as objects instead of body parts, and that can make us expect them to be more “flawless” than they are ever going to be. It can be easier said than done to take that to heart, but if you feel insecure about the way yours look, know that you’re not alone and try checking out some body positivity or body neutrality groups to gain a new perspective – sure, pushup bras and all that jazz are great if they make you feel good (and if they do, wear them with pride!), but dealing with your feelings about your body and the expectations around it is also vital to your mental health. And remember: ditch the negative self-talk!

Are There Specific Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?  

When it comes to breast cancer risk, there are actually a lot of factors that can affect your chances of developing the disease; some you can control, and unfortunately, some you can’t. They include:woman with a blue shirt on measuring her stomach

  • Being overweight (especially after menopause)
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Your age – Over two-thirds of cases are in women over 55
  • Genetics – Around 10% of cases are hereditary
  • Alcohol – Having two or three drinks a day could increase your risk by up to 20%
  • Fat intake – In a 2014 study, women who ate the most saturated fat had a 28% higher risk of hormone receptor–positive cancer

In the end, big or small, love ‘em or have a complicated relationship with ‘em, your breasts are a part of you – but only one part! They don’t define you and you get to choose if you flaunt them, hide them, use them to nourish another human, or just treat them like the body part that they are. Just remember, however you treat them, keep them healthy by eating right, exercising, and knowing them well enough to detect any changes in them – we want you and your girls to have a loving relationship for years to come!

What You Can Do To Reduce Your Chances of Breast Cancer

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

pill pack with different colored pill rows

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

fruits and vegetables combined
Incorporating veggies and fruits in your diet as well as exercising more will help reduce your risk.

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. 

Get Active!

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! 

Rest

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.

Stop Smokingcaucasian hand turning down a cigarette from a box being held by someone else

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.

Regular Screenings

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.