October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 245,000 women get breast cancer and over 40,000 women die from this disease each year.
While age, gender, genetics and family history can have a strong correlation to the disease, many women who get it don’t actually have any history in their families or any known risk factors.
However, here are six lifestyle factors women can control to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer and for busy women and moms who may not have the time to do their own research, this article summarizes the key factors to focus on.
1. Breastfeed your children if applicable and possible: If you’re in your childbearing years, able to produce breast milk and nurse, in addition to helping strengthen your baby’s immune system, you could also be reducing your risk of breast cancer. According to Medical News Today, for every five months you breastfeed, you reduce your chances of getting breast cancer by 2%. The reasoning is that your menstrual cycle is delayed when you breastfeed, which decreases the amount of the hormone estrogen in your body, which is linked to breast cancer. Lactation can also have an impact on the expression of breast cell genes, which can create a long term impact toward reducing the risk.
2. Get regular exercise: Getting a mix of cardiovascular activity, strength training and flexibility work for at least 30 minutes or more, most days of the week, can help protect your immune system and regulate hormone and insulin levels. And according to Susan G. Comen Breast Cancer Research Studies, regular exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 10-20%. Find activities you enjoy, that are realistic to fit into a busy day and that can possibly be done with others for the purposes of accountability.
3. Eat plant-based foods: According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and featured in Medical News Today, plant-based foods can cut the risk of breast cancer by 15%. Focus on fresh, organic fruits and vegetables such as berries, peaches, kale and broccoli, whole grains found in quinoa and brown rice, healthy monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and avocado and lean proteins found in fish, eggs and beans. These foods contain antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, beta carotene and more to help fight breast cancer.
4. Maintain a healthy weight: If you’re exercising regularly and eating plant-based and nutrient-rich foods, hopefully you’ll be able to maintain a healthy weight. However, having consistent access to data points, such as specific numbers on the scale, your BMI (body mass index) and body fat percentage, are also important to take into consideration. The more knowledge you have, the more you can develop solutions to maintain a healthy weight and hopefully lower your risks of breast cancer.
5. Avoid smoking and avoid or minimize alcohol consumption: While most people know smoking can cause lung cancer, according to Breastcancer.org, it may also cause breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women. In addition, second-hand smoke may cause breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Alcohol can also increase the risk of breast cancer for women and as alcohol consumption increases, so does the risk. Ideally avoiding smoking altogether and avoiding or minimizing drinking may be the best ways to lower the risk.
6. Get a mammogram as often as recommended by your doctor after the age of 40: According to the Mayo Clinic, getting a mammogram annually in your 40’s and 50’s can decrease the risk of breast cancer deaths by 15-29%. Therefore, be sure to talk to your doctor about starting and continuing your mammograms regularly after 40 (or sooner or later if needed) and be sure to do your own self-checks as well.
While there are certain elements of breast cancer that are beyond control, the best way for women to be empowered in the fight against it is to focus on the above lifestyle factors that can be controlled and practice them as consistently as possible.