Breast Cancer Prevention
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Although many advances have been made in the treatment and diagnosis of breast cancer, prevention is the best way to go when it comes to any type of cancer. There are many risk factors for breast cancer. Some are uncontrollable, like age, gender, race, genetics, family history, density of breast tissue and menstruation, while others are manageable. There are positive, proven steps women can take to reduce their risk of breast cancer.
- Maintain a healthy body weight: After menopause, fat tissue in the body secretes estrogen. Prolonged exposure to estrogen increases a woman's risk of breast cancer. Therefore, maintaining a healthy body weight, especially after menopause, plays an important role in breast cancer prevention.
- Choose a healthy diet: Not only does eating healthy help to maintain a healthy body weight, it supplies the body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are crucial to supporting optimal cell development and proliferation. For a healthy diet, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables; a quarter with grains like whole wheat bread, rice and corn; and protein for the last quarter. Remember that dairy, legumes, quinoa and eggs are only some of the meat-free protein options.
- Exercise regularly: In addition to choosing a healthy diet, regular exercise helps to prevent one's risk of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, walking only 1.75 hours a week reduces one's breast cancer risk by 18 percent. Something as simple as walking for 30 minutes three times a week can have a profound effect on wellness in general and breast cancer prevention in particular.
- Have children: Women who have experienced early pregnancy or multiple pregnancies have a lower risk of most breast cancers. Those who have no children or had their first child after 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. However, there are differentiations regarding how protective pregnancy is between different types of breast cancer.
- Breastfeed: According to the American Cancer Society, women who breastfeed their babies, especially those who breastfeed for a year-and-a-half or two years, have a lower risk of breast cancer than those who did not breastfeed. This area is in need of more research because not many women in America breastfeed their children for this length of time. It is hypothesized that breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of breast cancer because it reduces a woman's exposure to estrogen by decreasing menstruation during the breastfeeding period.
Maintaining a healthy body weight, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly not only reduce one's risk of breast cancer, but also digestive system cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and many other chronic diseases. Live healthy, not only for your breasts, but for your whole body.
Nameer Mardini, MD, MPH, is an oncologist at the SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center. He is board certified in internal medicine, medical oncology and hematology.