For years, the focus has been on early detection to improve the cure rate of breast cancer.
However, the more important question is: How can I prevent myself from getting breast cancer?
At a recent symposium on Women’s Health hosted by Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Dr. Heidi Memmel discussed new evidence showing that women can reduce their risk of developing the disease. “Women at increased risk because of family history should be offered genetic testing or medication for prevention, as appropriate. Even if women have no family history of breast cancer, there are important things they can do to reduce their risk of developing this disease,” she says.
Since less than 20% of the population is at risk for inherited breast cancer, it is important for the average woman to focus on ways to prevent breast cancer.
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
Especially after menopause, this is one of the most important things women can do to reduce their risk. Aside from tobacco, obesity may be the most modifiable risk factor for cancers.
2. Hormone Replacement Therapy.
After menopause, minimize your exposure to estrogen/progesterone replacements. More than 10-15 years of use can increase your risk. Women can use hormone replacement for a few years to help with symptoms of menopause, but then taper the medication.
3. Get Plenty of Vitamin D.
There is evidence that very low levels of vitamin D may be associated with breast and other cancers. Ask your doctor if you should have your vitamin D level checked, and then consider supplements if needed.
4. Stop Smoking.
Women who smoke have a 16% increased risk of developing breast cancer.
5. Limit alcohol intake.
Even moderate intake (four glasses of wine per week) is related to elevated risk, especially in postmenopausal women. Increased folic acid intake (such as lots of fruits and vegetables) counteracts this increased risk.
6. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables.
Recent studies associated a higher intake of fruits and vegetables with a lower risk of post-menopausal breast cancer. Add an extra vegetable for dinner…make yourself a blueberry smoothie…and then…
7. Take a walk!
Regular exercise is associated with a 20-40% reduction in breast cancer risk! This benefit persists regardless of weight status, family history or use of hormone replacement therapy.
There are certain risk factors that women can’t change; but there are many they CAN through simple lifestyle changes. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month—in honor of a family, friend, or yourself—make a commitment to incorporate these prevention strategies into your daily routine. It may not be easy at first, but a small change each day could help save your life!
Wendy L. Cullitan is an award-winning writer, editor and marketing consultant. She finds balance in her life through an avid personal yoga practice as well through teaching private and group yoga sessions on the North Shore. She also loves walking her dog, going to the beach and spending time with her family. Contact Wendy at [email protected].