Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in females in the United States and the second leading cause of death (the first being cardiovascular disease). Although you might think that it’s not possible to decrease your risk of getting breast cancer, there are many daily lifestyle habits you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine that could help reduce your risk.
Before we dive into our lifestyle tips, It’s important to keep in mind that even if you live the healthiest life possible, you may still get breast cancer. For this reason, it’s extremely important that you talk with your Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), OB-GYN, or other healthcare provider to make an informed decision about when to start, and how often to get screening mammograms. Mammography saves lives! While you may perform breast self-exams and get an annual breast exam at your annual well woman visit, these are not a substitute for mammography. Mammograms can often detect breast cancer before it can ever be felt.
Research shows that about 40% of all cancers could be prevented through healthy lifestyle behaviors. The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund has 10 tips to decrease your risk of getting breast cancer (as well as many other cancers and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke).
1. Enjoy many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans
Try to get some fruits or vegetables with every meal. They also make great snacks! Most of your grains should come from whole grains, so swap white rice for brown rice, and white bread for a hearty whole grain bread. Whole and minimally processed plant foods have phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that help protect your body from cancer. Phytonutrients help prevent the formation of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), prevent tumors from forming, and may decrease hormone levels that increase the risk of cancer.
2. Don’t use supplements in place of food
It’s best to focus on eating a high-quality, plant-rich diet rather than relying on supplements to try to decrease your risk of getting cancer. Plant foods contain fiber and a combination of nutrients that cannot be replicated through supplement use. Supplements could include isolated vitamins, minerals or concentrated herbs.
3. Limit fast foods and processed foods that are high in fat, starches, or sugars
These foods are high in calories but low in nutrients. High intake of these foods has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
4. Limit red and processed meat
Processed meat has been strongly linked with an increased risk of cancer (bacon, deli meats, hot dogs), because the process of meat processing, curing, and cooking can cause carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals to form. Eating red meat also increases cancer risk. If you decide to eat meat, try eating lean cuts of white meat, seafood, or fish instead.
5. Limit alcohol consumption
Recent research continues to demonstrate that alcoholic beverages increase the risk of breast cancer. If you decide to drink alcohol, limit your intake.
6. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks
Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, are not good for your health for many reasons, including that they increase cancer risk. Sugar-sweetened drinks may lead to increased weight gain and a decreased intake of nutrient-dense foods, contributing to an increased cancer risk, though researchers are still trying to fully understand this link.
7. Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight leads to higher levels of estrogen, which can stimulate breast cancer.
8. For mothers, breastfeed if you are able to do so
Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the mother’s risk of breast cancer, even years down the road. We do understand that breast feeding is not possible for every mother, though. This is just one factor in reducing your risk of breast cancer.
Getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise (such as fast walking or water aerobics) or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise (such as playing a basketball game), decreases the risk of cancer.
10. Get regular screenings and mammograms when appropriate!
Remember, even if you live the healthiest lifestyle possible, you can still get breast cancer. For this reason, talk to your healthcare provider annually about breast cancer screening (including mammograms). A decision for what type of screening is best for you, should be made collaboratively during a discussion with your provider, as your family history, past medical history, current health history, age, breast health history, as well as your personal preferences all play a role. Please book a visit with us at Diana Health or your healthcare provider, if you haven’t discussed breast cancer screening in the last year. Breast cancer screening saves lives!