Every 20 seconds somewhere in the world a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. And every minute another woman dies because of the disease. This year more than 1.5 million women will be treated for breast cancer, and a half million will succumb to the disease – the most common female malignancy in every single country in the world.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer, apart from being a woman? Well, there are several:
- a history of breast cancer in a close relative (particularly if she was diagnosed with the disease before menopause or had cancer in both breasts)
- use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy
- cigarette smoking
- alcohol consumption
- lack of exercise
Whereas we can’t do anything about the first two risk factors, we can certainly make lifestyle changes that can reduce the danger imposed by the other six risk factors. Let’s consider each one separately.
5 Things You Can Do
1. Avoid Oral Contraceptives and Hormone Replacement Therapy
In 2007, the World Health Organization declared that both oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy were Group I Carcinogens—in other words, they are known to cause cancer in humans. There is no longer any doubt that both of these drugs increase the risk for breast cancer. Stopping the use of them reduces that risk, not immediately, but slowly over time. So whenever possible, avoid the use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.
2. Don’t Smoke
Smoking is just plain bad for you and it’s bad for your breasts, too. It increases the risk for breast cancer, especially in women who begin smoking in their teenage years. And if you have breast cancer and you continue to smoke, you increase your risk of dying. So, please, don’t smoke. Quit smoking, if you do.
3. Limit Alcohol
Alcohol increases the risk for breast cancer in a dose-response fashion; which is to say, the more you drink,the more you increase your risk for breast cancer. Is there a level of drinking that is considered ‘safe’? Unfortunately, no. Even ½ glass of wine per day increases the risk for breast cancer. The best solution is to restrict alcohol consumption to only the occasional celebration.
4. Trim the Fat
Obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer because fat cells manufacture estrogen – a known carcinogen. Maintaining ideal body weight will therefore reduce the risk for breast cancer. A healthy diet based on at least 7 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day is a good way to get started on the road toward an ideal body weight.
Related Article: 7 Steps to Fat Loss
5. Get Moving
Lack of exercise also increases the risk for breast cancer. The good news is simply walking briskly for 30 minutes four times a week can reduce your risk for breast cancer by 30-60%. What’s more, if you’ve already had breast cancer, regular exercise can reduce your risk of death by 50%. You could walk for 30 minutes four times a week or engage in another form of regular, but non-strenuous exercise. A pair of tennis shoes is all you need!
You can’t do much about being born a woman, and you can’t change the genes you inherit. But you can lower your risk for breast cancer by implementing a few simple, healthy lifestyle changes. Steer clear of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy; don’t even think about smoking; enjoy alcohol rarely and in small quantities; eat at least 7 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday; do your best to get your weight within normal range for your age and height; and get moving!
You can build a mighty fortress around your breasts and reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by making these simple, smart lifestyle changes. And the rest of your body will be happy, too!
Kathleen T. Ruddy, M.D., an internationally-known breast surgeon, is the founder and executive director of the Breast Health & Healing Foundationand creator of the ongoing Pink Virus Project. Since becoming a breast surgeon, she has cared for more than 6,000 patients while conducting research and initiating projects that focus on trying to understand the causes of breast cancer with the goal of preventing the disease. Dr. Ruddy also serves on the Leadership Council of the Harvard School of Public Health and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative.
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