As everything turns pink in October for breast cancer awareness month, it’s important for women to remember this: breast cancer isn’t prevented, treated, nor survived in just one month out of the year. More than 250,000 new cases of “invasive” breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2019, and almost 70,000 cases of “non-invasive.” One in eight women, or 12%, will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, meaning the cancer is in the surrounding breast tissue and accounts for about 80% of all breast cancer diagnoses.
With only 10% of breast cancer cases being inherited, or genetic, it’s important to know, understand, and practice preventions that could very well save your life.
While there are dozens of ways to prioritize your health to prevent disease, here are 11 things we think every woman can attain in her effort to prevent breast cancer.
Know Your Roots
We’re not talking original hair color (who even knows what that is)...we’re talking about your mom, grandmothers, aunts, even uncles and grandpas. Did they have breast cancer? Do you carry the BrCa gene? Talk to your family about your history, and talk to your doctor about genetic testing (especially if you can’t access that information).
Easier said than done? Sure. But it could protect your health down the road. Monisha Bhanote, MD, FASCP, FCAP, triple board certified physician at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, told us that stress itself doesn’t cause cancer, but that “chronic stress weakens our immune system making us more susceptible to sleep disorders, depression, and diseases including cancer.”
She reminds that not all stress is bad, but that chronic stress can weaken our bodies mentally and physically. She’s a big proponent of meditation...especially the simple, no cost, do anywhere technique she calls 4-7-8.
- Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale completely through your mouth for 8 seconds
- Repeat this cycle 3 more times for a total of 4 reps
Reconsider Hormone Replacement Therapy
We know those hot flashes aren’t cool, but urge you to talk with your doctor about other ways to manage the symptoms of menopause. Combination HRT increases risk by 75%, even for a short period of time. Estrogen-only HRT increases the risk after 10 years of use. Higher risk exists for bioidentical HRT, too.
We know you know, and we know it’s not easy, but the broad-spectrum health benefits make the effort to quit smoking worth it. Smoking is known to cause 15 different cancers, breast cancer the newest addition to the list. Smoking increases the risk for breast cancer by 35%! The risk is greater if you started smoking before you got your period.
Be Less Boozy
No cigarettes and no cocktails? We’re not trying to be vice haters, but we promise breast cancer is a lot less fun. Sarah P. Cate, MD, Director or Special Surveillance and Breast Program at Mount Sinai Chelsea Downtown, advised that five or more drinks per week is a moderate risk factor for breast cancer. Alcohol can increase estrogen, which certain types of breast cancer love. It can also damage DNA, which is one of the prime ways cancer cells sneak in.
Put Down the Plastic
Dr. Bhanote also reminds that containers with endocrine-disrupting chemicals like PCB, BPA, and phthalates are known culprits for causing breast cancer. These compounds “mimic natural hormones, therefore interfering with hormone regulations and functioning of normal cells within the body.” This goes for water bottles, food storage containers, to-go boxes, canned goods, utensils, and more.
“It is easy to replace the use of plastic with glass, which in turn is not only better for your health, but more sustainable for the environment.”
Watch Your Weight
“One of the biggest risk reduction strategies for many cancers, breast cancer included, is maintaining a normal BMI or body mass index. Fat cells make estrogen and this may contribute to breast cancer development,” shared Dr. Cate.
We’ve never cared about your size, but we don’t want anyone getting that diagnosis because of their weight. We know you know, and hope you heed this reminder to eat a healthful diet, exercise regularly, sleep well, and drink water...all habits that can help manage weight.
Eat More Plants
Fight cancer with fresh fruits and vegetables. Just 5.5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day reduces the risk of breast cancer greater than those eating 2.5 servings or fewer. This was especially true for aggressive-type tumors. Eating a variety of produce, across the rainbow, every day has far-reaching benefits beyond just cancer prevention...but that’s a pretty good reason! Here’s one way to get to 5.5 servings in a day:
- Breakfast: Pumpkin Pie Smoothie with pumpkin puree and banana
- Snack: Carrots and cucumbers with hummus or salsa
- Lunch: Whole grain turkey sandwich with fresh spinach and tomatoes with apples
- Dinner: Butternut squash with red and orange bell pepper fajitas in corn tortillas or over a bed or leafy greens
Move Your Booty
… and your arms, and your legs, and your hips. Daily movement of any kind is essential to overall health, wellness, strength, longevity, mood, insert 100 other things, and even breast cancer prevention! Conclusive findings, across many studies, point to exercise for reducing the risk of breast cancer and helping survivors to live longer, fuller lives. Surely you’ve got a mere 30 minutes a day for even moderate-intensity exercise (take a walk, ride a bike, mow the lawn, wash the windows, do yoga).
Make a date with your breasts to check for lumps, tender spots, or visual abnormalities each month, and let your doctor know immediately if anything is out of the ordinary. Talk with your OB/GYN during annual visits about scheduling your first (and ongoing) mammogram.
Make it About RaceBlack women have lower incidences of breast cancer than white women…but die from the disease at an astoundingly 40% higher rate. It’s imperative that Black women seek out regular screenings, and know their family history to be proactive with the information. Not only is the disease more biologically aggressive, but there are social barriers that hinder prevention and treatment. The female community should work hand-in-hand to support other women in finding and accessing service providers at every end of the spectrum so that no one goes without the care and attention they need.