Lifestyle Strategies for Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

ReducingBreastCancerJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time to talk about prevention. The iconic pink ribbon image symbolizes risk awareness, the importance of early detection, and an enlightened approach to available treatment options. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, and the second leading cause of cancer death among women aged 35-54 years. Statistics show that more than 290,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year and sadly, nearly 41,000 die from the disease. Per the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.

The good news is that the death rates from breast cancer have been steadily declining since 1989, especially for women diagnosed before 50 years of age. Early detection, greater knowledge of the disease, and improved treatment are believed to be responsible for the decline, which may have saved up to 322,000 lives. Currently, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. and every single person has reason to celebrate. Per the World Health Organization (WHO), somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of all cancer cases are preventable and states, “Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer.” Although there are no guarantees, and certain risk factors such as family history are immutable, there are lifestyle habits that one can adopt to support breast and overall health and reduce breast cancer risks.

-Be proactive. Every individual needs to take responsibility for their own health and breast health is no exception, as early detection is key for treatment. For optimum breast health, observe, self-examine and screen. Watch for symptoms such as a mass, lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm, or any unexplained changes in the skin, nipple, size or shape of the breast. Other signs can include nipple discharge or tenderness, a change in the look, feel or texture of the breast, skin dimpling anywhere on the breast, unilateral swelling or shrinkage, a persistent rash or scaly skin around the nipple, and a previously protruding nipple that becomes inverted. Many times, these symptoms do not result in a cancer diagnosis. However, these symptoms warrant investigation by your healthcare professional.

-Early detection saves lives. Be vigilant, perform monthly breast self-exams to identify any changes. This can be done in the shower, in front of a mirror, or while lying down. The most common symptom is a lump in the breast. Per Johns Hopkins Medical Center, forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who find a lump through self-examination. If you do find a lump, don’t panic but do see your doctor. There are many types of non-cancerous breast conditions including cysts and fibrosis, often associated with hormonal fluctuations.

-Reach and maintain a healthy weight. This seems to be on everyone’s agenda, but there’s good reason to watch the number of the scale. Increased weight in adulthood is linked with increased estrogen production and a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause. The American Cancer Society recommends staying at a healthy weight throughout life by balancing a healthy diet with physical activity.

-Adopt an active lifestyle. There’s just no getting around the importance of exercise. Regular physical activity combined with a healthy diet helps to maintain weight and reduce the size of fat cells. Fat cells produce estrogen, higher levels of which are linked to certain cancers. Everyone is busy, but finding time for 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise each week may considerably reduce cancer risk, while supporting long term health. If you have 10 minutes, use it wisely.

-Tobacco use is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer mortality. Of the 7000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke, 250 are known to harm health and 50 are known carcinogens.

-Eat more fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, and fruits such as berries and citrus. Women who follow a Mediterranean style diet, which focuses on plant based foods, healthy fats, and seafood, may have a reduced risk of certain cancers, as well as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

-Minimize alcohol use. While many enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail or two, be aware that excessive alcohol consumption is a well-established dietary risk factor for breast cancer. Women who regularly consume more than two glasses of alcohol daily are at higher risk.

-Reduce exposure to toxins in your environment, such as cleaning and personal care products. Laboratory studies provide evidence that there may be a significant link between some environmental pollutants and breast cancer. Chemicals found in the environment may damage DNA, promote tumor growth, or increase susceptibility to alterations in mammary gland development.

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References:
Cancer prevention. http://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/en/
8 Tips for Breast Health. https://www.utmedicalcenter.org/healthy-tips/45/8-tips-for-breast-health/
Symptoms and Signs. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-symptoms-and-signs
Non-cancerous Breast Conditions. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/non-cancerous-breast-conditions.html
Breast Cancer Prevention: How to reduce your risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/breast-cancer-prevention/art-20044676
Summary of Environmental Pollutants and Breast Cancer: Epidemiologic Studies. http://sciencereview.silentspring.org/PDFs/lay_EnvEpi_FINAL.pdf