Reducing risk for breast cancer

Reducing risk for breast cancer

October is Breast cancer Awareness Month.  Breast cancer undoubtedly touches everyone, whether it is your mother, sister, neighbor or friend—according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.,  1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. While you can’t prevent cancer, you can take steps to reduce your risks.

A healthy lifestyle can help protect your overall health and may reduce your risk for certain cancers.

A few reminders:

  • Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day.
  • Do not smoke. Or, quit smoking.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

Being overweight or obese after menopause increases breast cancer risk, explains the American Cancer Society.  Before menopause your ovaries make most of your estrogen, and fat tissue makes only a small amount. 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 raise estrogen levels and increase your chance of getting breast cancer. Also, women who are overweight tend to have higher blood insulin levels. Higher insulin levels have been linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.

Be physically active:

The American Cancer Society recommends all women to strive for healthy weight.  Both increased body weight and weight gain as an adult are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause.

A Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II) began in 1982 to study the link between lifestyle and cancer.  They continually analyze its data. Here are recent findings:

  • Postmenopausal women who walk at least 7 hours a week lower their risk of developing breast cancer by 14 percent.
  • Postmenopausal women who lose 10 or more pounds and keep it off for at least 5 years might reduce their risk for breast cancer.
  • Gaining 60 or more pounds after age 18 doubles a woman’s chance of breast cancer after menopause.

Many studies have shown that moderate to vigorous physical activity is linked with lower breast cancer risk, so it’s important to get regular physical activity. 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.

Limit or avoid alcohol: Alcohol also increases risk of breast cancer. Even low levels of alcohol intake have been linked with an increase in risk. The American Cancer Society recommends that women who drink have no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).

American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.

Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

Be prepared and have questions ready for your doctor when you are headed in for a mammogram:

The National Health Information Center offers this checklist to take to your next appointment:

  • Do I have risk factors for breast cancer?
  • Based on my risk factors, what is my chance of getting breast cancer?
  • What will happen when I go to get mammograms?
  • How long will it take to get the results of my mammograms?
  • If I don’t hear back about the results of my mammograms, does that mean everything is okay?

If you are under age 50, you might want to ask:

  • Should I start getting regular mammograms? If so, how often?
  • What are the pros and cons of getting mammograms before age 50?

If you are between ages 50 and 74, you might want to ask:

  • How often should I get mammograms?
  • What are the pros and cons of getting mammograms every 2 years instead of every year?

Did you know?

Breast cancer can occur in men.  more than 2,000 men are diagnosed each year.

The National Cancer Institute reports these key points on male breast cancer:

  • Male breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.
  • A family history of breast cancer and other factors can increase a man’s risk of breast cancer.
  • Male breast cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).
  • Men with breast cancer usually have lumps that can be felt.
  • Tests that examine the breasts are used to detect (find) and diagnose breast cancer in men.
  • If cancer is found, tests are done to study the cancer cells.
  • Survival for men with breast cancer is similar to survival for women with breast cancer.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Find out more:

The good news about breast cancer is that if found and treated early, most survive the disease. According to the ACS, death rates from breast cancer in the U.S. have dropped 39% between 1989 and 2015. This translates to 322,600 fewer breast cancer deaths during those 26 years. This decrease is attributed to improvements in early detection (through increased awareness and screening) and treatment.

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