16 ways to lower your risk of breast cancer
Then and Now
In the 1940s, a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer was one in 22. Today, her risk has risen to one in eight. This is mainly due to the fact that women are living longer, as breast cancer is a disease whose likelihood increases with. While nothing can prevent breast cancer completely, these 16 habits can help.
Ask Your Doc: Should You Be Taking Two Baby Aspirins (162 mg) a Day?
While aspirin increases the risk of stomach ulcers and other bleeding, research has also shown that it protects against cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, prostate, and ovaries, as well as four other cancers. And it may decrease the risk of death from those cancers. A handful of studies have revealed that women with breast cancer who regularly take aspirin are 64 percent less likely to die. You can minimize the side effects by taking half a glass of warm water before and after the two babies (aspirins). Overall benefits should exceed the risk in average-risk women taking estrogen (including creams and birth control pills) who are over age 45. And consistent use is key — an occasional aspirin after drinking too much alcohol probably doesn’t protect your breasts, for example. And three drinks every day will neutralize any benefits provided by two daily baby aspirins (see below).
Decrease your risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence by getting your abdominal fat to disappear. “Body fat boosts estrogen storage, so the heavier you are, the more circulating estrogen you’ll store and the more circulating harmful estrogen you’ll have,” says Jill Dietz, MD, a breast cancer surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. The good news is, you don’t have to be a size ten to reduce your risk. Research shows that even moderate weight and waist loss — 5 percent of your weight or more — in overweight and obese women can lower breast cancer risk by 25 percent. Visceral, or belly, fat is especially dangerous, so whittle your middle. The quickest way to get rid of a spare tire: portion control and reduced intake of stripped carbohydrates. Failing that, try resistance exercises, and in a distant third place, vigorous cardio (exercise) like jogging or speed-walking.
Limit the Alcohol
If you want to diminish your risk of breast cancer, cut way back on the booze. Drinking alcohol, even moderately, can increase your cancer risk. “Even as little as one drink per day seems to be associated with breast cancer, and the more you drink, the higher your risk,” says Halle Moore, MD, a breast cancer oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Three or more drinks per week boost the risk of breast cancer recurrence by 30 percent, and overweight and postmenopausal women may be particularly at risk. What matters most is the cumulative amount of alcohol you drink over a lifetime, so whether you have a glass of wine every night with dinner or a few cocktails on weekends, the effect is still the same. To keep your breast cancer risk low, cap your cocktails at one or two a week.
Run — or walk — away from breast cancer. Women who exercise between 10 and 19 hours per week are 30 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than less active women. Don’t worry: household chores, gardenwork, and walking your dog (keep moving when she stops) count toward those hours. Any physical activity helps — moderate activity was as beneficial as vigorous workouts like jogging. Though gaining weight after menopause can cancel out some of the benefits of an active lifestyle, researchers still found that obese women who exercised had about the same breast cancer risk as normal-weight sedentary women.
Use HT With the Right Compounds and a Couple of Baby Aspirins
Though we don’t know what causes breast cancer, we do know that certain estrogens are major players. So lifestyle choices that keep these hormone levels in check may also lower your risk of breast cancer. While combination estrogen-progestin hormone therapy (HT) taken during menopause can help take the heat out of hot flashes, it poses a small, though real, increase in breast cancer risk for postmenopausal women, especially after four to five years of use.
Bioidentical pharmaceutical choices of estradiol may pose a lower risk. Some studies showed that women who took this kind of estrogen with a micronized progestin like Prometrium (rather than progesterone acetate) had fewer breast cancers than predicted. Women with a history of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer should avoid HT if possible. Local hormone therapy — a topical cream, ring or tablet applied directly to the vagina — exposes women to much less estrogen, but neither is it completely risk-free, says Dr. Dietz. Before beginning HT, weigh the pros and cons in a serious conversation with your doctor. And ask about taking a couple of baby aspirin (162 mg) with half a glass of water before and after to oppose the increased risk of blood clots posed by taking estrogen
Eat Veggies, Especially From the Cruciferous Family
We’d all love for there to be a magical food that we could add to our diet that would — poof! — make our risk of cancer disappear. But when it comes to countering cancer with our forks and knives, our best bet is to follow a sensible diet. “What’s healthy for your heart is probably healthy for your breasts as well,” according to Rahul Tendulkar, MD, a radiation oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. To that end, high consumption of sugars and red meat are associated with many kinds of cancers, including breast, says Dr. Dietz. Choose a diet that’s high in fibre from fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains; and low in saturated fat, stripped carbohydrates like sugar and white bread, processed items, and red meat, cured meat, well-done or blackened meat. And crucifers (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, and cauliflower) seem to have a special advantage in reducing breast cancer risk.
Have a Big Brood, and Start Early
If breast cancer is a personal concern of yours, don’t delay having kids. Starting a family sooner rather than later may drastically lower your chances of breast cancer. Women whose first child comes before the age of 20 have half the risk of women who first conceive in their thirties. Having your first baby before the age of 30 also lowers your risk, says Dr. Tendulkar. Additional pregnancies decrease the incidence of breast cancer further: Women who have given birth to five or more children before age 30 have half the risk compared with women who have never given birth. Since pregnancy is associated with the highest levels of estrogen you’ll ever have throughout your lifetime, it puts the entire estrogen hypothesis of breast cancer in question.
Breast Is Best
Nursing is as good for new moms as it is for babies. Breastfeeding for at least a year appears to lower the chance of developing breast cancer. In fact, a 2007 study found that breastfeeding cancels out the effect of delaying childbirth, (the average age of first birth in Australia is 28.9 years. Another study found that breastfeeding women who carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, which significantly increases the risk of breast cancer, were 32 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not breastfeed. Don’t take this as the complete answer for BRCA1, though. If you know that it runs in your family, talk to a genetic counselor. And remember that, for all concerned, even a little breast milk is better than none.
Bone Up on D3
Your pasty complexion may confirm that you haven’t seen the sun in weeks or that, when you do, you’re covering up as you should. But lack of sunlight also keeps us from manufacturing vitamin D3 — and vitamin D3 is an essential nutrient that may help prevent breast cancer. “Everyone is walking around with low vitamin D3 levels. There is massive evidence that you can prevent breast cancer by getting your levels up,” says Dr. Dietz. “For breast cancer protection, the recommendation is to get your levels between 40 to 50 nanograms per milliliter.” Ask your family doctor to check your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test, and take a vitamin D3 supplement if you’re deficient. Women under 70 need at least 600 IU per day; those over age 70 require at least 800 IU per day. Do not exceed 4,000 IU daily unless your doctor prescribes it and checks your levels frequently.
Choose Birth Control Wisely
Your contraceptive can affect your breast cancer risk. According to the Cancer Council NSW American women who take the contraceptive Pill have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. but the risk after stopping oral contraceptives reverts to normal within five to 10 year. Again, be sure to talk to your doctor about taking two baby aspirins (162 mg) with half a glass of water before and after to reduce the increased risk of clotting that taking any estrogen poses.
If you’re still smoking, it’s time to call it quits. Women who smoke have an increased risk of breast cancer — and the earlier you start, the higher the risk. A recent study found that women who maintained a pack-a-day habit for 30 years or more increased their risk by 28 percent. Light smokers who quit after fewer years had only a 6 percent greater risk — so quit now. We can help if you want.
Keep Blood Sugar in Check
You can learn how to regulate your blood sugars and thwart type 2 diabetes if you don’t already know how. Doing so may help lower your risk of breast cancer as well. Even after adjusting for other factors, diabetes is associated with a nearly 40 percent increased risk for breast cancer. “It is shown that breast cancer patients can decrease the chance of recurrence by losing weight, starting an exercise program, and eating a diet low in processed fats and high in fiber,” says Dr. Dietz. All of these things help prevent type 2 diabetes too.
Get Screened Regularly
Although mammograms can’t prevent cancer, they can reduce your risk of dying from it. “Breast cancer is a very treatable disease if caught early,” says Dr. Dietz. The sooner it’s caught, the better your chances. BreastScreen Australia aims to reduce mortality and morbidity from breast cancer by actively recruiting and screening women aged 50-69 years for early detection of the disease.
Don’t Be a Night Owl
To protect your breasts, avoid working the night shift, if possible. Several studies have linked overnight work to breast cancer, with an increased risk of 30 to 60 percent. The theory is that exposure to nighttime light increases your production of melatonin, a hormone that boosts the production of estrogen. Interestingly, blind people have a 20 to 50 percent reduced risk of breast cancer. If you do work the night shift, dim the lights. Dr. Roizen recommends exercising before or after your shift to reset your sleep-wake cycle. And get seven to eight hours of sleep every night (or day).
Limit Medical X-rays or CT Scans
A recent joint study by the Institute of Medicine and the Susan G. Komen Foundation found that the biggest and most overlooked contributor to breast cancer isn’t pesticides or BPA but ionizing radiation from unnecessary tests like X-rays and CT scans. “A CT scan has a significant amount of radiation, and there are people who pay cash to get one every year,” says Dr. Dietz. But before you go swearing off hospitals, know this: The World Nuclear Association says 100 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation a year is the lowest level known to increase the risk of cancer. A single CT scan yields one-fifth of that, at 20 mSv. Other diagnostic tests that emit lesser amounts of ionizing radiation include X-rays, nuclear medicine tests and fluoroscopy. The airport body scanner provides a measly 0.000005 mSv per scan. Dr. Dietz’s advice: Always ask if a test is necessary, and see whether alternatives like an MRI or ultrasound might work as well. Sometimes these studies are necessary to save a life, and the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. But having a scan simply to alleviate your worries may do more harm than good.
Take Time to De-Stress
Though we don’t have a lot of research to prove it, stress, loneliness and other negative moods increase the risk of developing most cancers, so they may affect your odds of developing breast cancer, as well as your chances of surviving if you do get it. A stress-fueled lifestyle may be linked to more aggressive tumors, and women with a family history of breast cancer may be more easily frazzled by everyday stresses. Dr. Dietz tells her patients that too much stress is clearly bad for you, and getting it under control will help. Meditation, exercise, spending quality time with loved ones, engaging in hobbies you love, and laughing are all potent stress reducers, so enjoy ’em daily.