One of every eight women will have breast cancer in her lifetime, and this article will suggest some of the lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your chances. There are also some “risk factors” that you can’t change, such as genetics, but knowing if you are at added risk might motivate you to be more regular about your preventative exams.
The good news about breast cancer is that the survival rates have improved in the past few years, due to earlier detection and better treatments. Today, the “5 year survival rate” of breast cancer that is limited to the breast is 85-98% (depending on the type), and only 25% if the cancer has metastasized to areas outside the breast. Remember: any lump in the breast or axilla, or any distortion of the skin of the breast or nipple should be investigated.
Here are the things that increase your risk of breast cancer: age over 65, a close relative who has had breast cancer, one who had menstrual periods start before age 12 or menopause after 55, one who had first child after age 30, one who has never given birth, one who has the gene mutation – BRCA1 or BRCA2, one who took hormones for years after menopause, and one who has a “highly dense breast” on mammography.
“Breast cancer is not just as women’s issue – it affects all of us: the brothers, husbands, fathers, children, and friends.” – Ralph Lauren
LIFESTYLE There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer. Smoking increases the risk of all forms of cancers, including breast. Alcohol use increases breast cancer risk, and it is “dose-related”, i.e. heavier alcohol use has greater risks. In one recent study, women who drank one to six alcohol servings per week had a 29% higher risk of developing estrogen-positive cancer than women who never drank alcohol. Those who drank seven or more servings per week had a 48% higher risk.(1) For information on this topic, go to the Susan G. Komen website. If you drink alcohol, keep the intake low and not daily.
Being overweight is now considered to be a risk factor for breast cancer, and this is believed to be due to the alteration of the balance between different types of estrogen by fat cells. After menopause, the fat cells become the major source of the body’s estrogen. Recent research has shown that higher body levels of insulin (seen in obesity and adult-onset diabetes) had nearly double the risk of breast cancer.(2) There is also evidence that regular exercise reduces breast cancer risk.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” – Mary Ann Radmacher
DIET As with most cancers, breast cancer is reduced in populations of people who consume more fruits and vegetables, and less meat. Vegetarians appear to have less estrogen-negative breast tumors. In one “pooled study” (gathering data from 20 studies involving about 993,000 women), those who ate the most vegetables had an 18% lower tumor incidence when compared with those who ate few vegetables.(3) Consider growing your own by dedicating part of your yard to a garden. It doesn’t take much space to grow peas, beans, lettuce and kale, tomatoes, and raspberries. With more space you can add cucumbers, spaghetti squash/zucchini/sweet meat squash, etc.
(1) American Journal of Epidemiology 180: 705, 2014
(2) Cancer Research 75:270, 2015
(3) Journal of The National Cancer Institute 105:219, 2013