As aging women, are we doing enough to get a step ahead of breast cancer? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s time to take control of our lives to keep this disease at bay.
It’s fairly common knowledge that we need to get regular screening tests. The earlier the detection of cancer, the better the chances of finding ways to treat it. However, did you know that lifestyle choices also have an effect on breast cancer?
According to Cancer.org, there are several lifestyle-related risks for breast cancer:
Women who either have no children, or who had their first child after 30 years of age have a slightly higher breast cancer risk overall. Becoming pregnant at an early age reduces breast cancer risk overall. Still, the effect of pregnancy is different for different types of breast cancer. For a certain type of breast cancer known as triple-negative, pregnancy seems to increase risk.
Studies have found that women using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. This risk seems to go back to normal once women stop using the pills.
There have been studies to suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if it is continued for 1½ to 2 years. However this has been a difficult area to study, especially in countries such as the United States, where breastfeeding for this long is uncommon. The explanation for this possible effect may be that breastfeeding reduces a woman’s total number of lifetime menstrual cycles (the same as starting menstrual periods at a later age or going through early menopause).
Consuming alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer and the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with non-drinkers, women who consume 1 alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who don’t drink alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption is also known to increase the risk of developing several other cancers. The American Cancer Society recommends that women have no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day.
OBESITY and OVERWEIGHT
Being overweight or obese after menopause increases breast cancer risk. Before menopause, your ovaries produce most of your estrogen, and fat tissue produces a small amount of estrogen. After menopause (when the ovaries stop making estrogen), most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen levels. Also, women who are overweight tend to have higher blood insulin levels. Higher insulin levels have also been linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.
Though there are many variables governing obesity and breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends you maintain a healthy weight throughout your life by balancing your food intake with physical activity and avoiding excessive weight gain.
Physical activity in the form of exercise reduces breast cancer risk. The question is how much exercise is needed. In one study from the Women’s Health Initiative, as little as 1¼ to 2½ hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman’s risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.
Other lifestyle choice we can implement into our daily lives that will help lower our risk for cancer are:
Eating at least 2 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, and limiting our consumption of red meat and processed meat.
The following foods are instrumental in lowering the risks of breast cancer:
Mushrooms (Cremini, shiitake, oyster)
Legumes (Lentils, beans)
Whole grains. After reviewing the published research, Finnish scientists determined that consuming whole-grain rye can help slash breast cancer risk. A synergy between fiber, lignans, vitamins, minerals and the phytonutrient phytic acid make rye bread a breast cancer fighter. When buying, check the ingredient list to ensure that the first item is whole rye flour and not wheat flour.
Eating polyunsaturated and mono unsaturated fats (the “good” fats), found in foods such as olive oil, avocados and nuts.
It’s time to take control of our lives. Through nutrition and healthy living, we can make a difference. Next time you reach for that steak, or grab a margarita, or even that birth control prescription, ask yourself if it’s the right choice. Let’s try to stay in control of our health, as much as we can.