Breast cancer is a phrase no woman wants to hear from their doctor. Yet one in seven will hear those words, some for the second time. What can we do to protect ourselves from the nation’s second leading cause of death?
Much remains unknown about cancer in general, but health professionals and researchers seem to agree on one thing. Prevention provides you with a better chance of not developing cancer.
What factors will matter? Your risk level is the key to building a preventative program. It’s not a one-size fits-all approach. Understand no solution is 100% either, but you can take steps today to improve your breast health and lower your cancer risk.
Who’s at Risk for Breast Cancer?
White and African American women have the highest rates of breast cancer. While it’s less prominent among other races, if you’re a woman of menstruating age or post menopause, you’re at risk.
Increased Risk Factors for Breast Cancer:
- Family history
- Early menstruation
- Dense breasts
- Previously had breast cancer
- Previous non-cancerous breast disease
- Mutated genes
- Previous exposure to radiation
- Previous exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol, including in-vitro
- Hormone therapy
- Weight, Height, and BMI
- Lack of physical exercise
You can’t change many factors, such as being a woman, your age, or your family or medical history. However, whether you’re 20 or 99, you can take steps today to optimize your health, nutrition, and well being. All can be a prominent defense against multiple diseases, including cancer.
15 Ways to Prevent and Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer
1. Enjoy Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If you have dense breasts and obese, a major risk increasing factor, eating omega-3 rich foods might decrease your chances of developing breast-related cancer.
Omega-3’s might be beneficial for women without dense breasts too, according to this study. Of course, you can reap the other positive benefits too without side effects.
2. Enjoy More Soy
The isoflavones in whole food soy products actually reduce your risk of cancer. Soy has a bad reputation; the science behind this healthy protein villainized it for years, but a 2016 study shed more light on the soy is bad myth.
Soy Foods to Try:
- Soy milk
Any exercise is better than none. According to the American Cancer Society, you’ll need to perform moderate to vigorous activity in order to reduce your risks.
If you’re already exercising at least 150 minutes (75 for vigorous), you’re on the right track. Work toward either goal if you aren’t quite there yet. Yoga, walking, swimming, and cardio make excellent choices, but be sure to pick an exercise you enjoy.
4. Healthy Diet
Your diet matters more than you might realize, and the foods you ate in your teens might increase your risk now. According to this study diet plays a major role.
We can’t turn back the clock and change how we ate as kids. We can overhaul our diets now to include plenty of berries, vegetables, and spices like turmeric and garlic. But we can limit processed and sugary foods, red meats, and eat more plants to nourish our bodies and build defenses against cancer. Plus, you might lose weight, which brings us to the next tip.
5. Maintain a Healthy … Body Fat Percentage
You read that right. Body fat is a bigger contributing risk factor than weight and BMI. This means you can be at an ideal weight and still be at a higher risk, according to this study. Women in the 16-year study with normal BMI and weight, but with higher body fat percentages, had a higher possibility of developing estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
6. Drink Green Tea
Numerous human and animal studies have shown promising results on green tea’s ability to ward off cancer. We do know green tea contains antioxidants, which fight cancer-causing free radicals. It’s also simple to add a cup a day to your diet and carries no side effects. If you’re not a fan of green tea, you might prefer white or black tea. All contain similar antioxidant properties.
7. Tamoxifen and Raloxifene
Both drugs have FDA approval for breast cancer prevention. While prescription drugs might not be for every woman, you can speak with your doctor to determine if you’re a candidate for either drug. High-risk women might benefit more from including them in their preventative care.
Who’s a candidate?
- Post menopause women
- Women who’ve had cancer
8. Know Your Screening Options and Their Risks
How do self-exams prevent cancer? Truth is they don’t. They alert you to changes that could signal cancer or precancerous conditions. Of course, the earlier cancer is caught, the better your odds.
Mammograms do expose you to radiation, which does increase your cancer risk. If you’re concerned, please speak with your doctor about the alternatives, such as an elastography ultrasound or thermography.
Not everyone has access to extensive family trees or knows their family’s medical history. Genetic testing can shed light on gene mutations that might lead to cancer.
For breast related cancer, a test can look for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This shows whether a close relative, such as your mother, aunt, or grandmother had cancer. Determining your cancer risk can help you and your doctor make important decisions.
9. Limit Alcohol or Give it Up
If you consume more than three drinks a day, sporadically or regularly, you’re increasing your risks for cancer.
Quitting alcohol is your best bet for breast cancer prevention. If you can’t quit, limit your intake as much as possible.
10. Stop Smoking
Smoking tends to align more with lung and throat cancers, but it is a risk factor for your breast health too. Quitting decreases your risk for cancer period. If you need help, consider cessation aids and support groups. Sometimes it takes a few tries to quit too, so don’t give up hope if you stumble.
11. Drink Your Coffee
If you’re post menopause, you can see a slight risk reduction by consuming your morning coffee. The higher the caffeine content or the more you drink, the greater the decrease too.
There doesn’t appear to be much benefit to women in menopause or premenopause, but ti won’t increase risks.
12. Ditch the Hormone Therapy and Reconsider Oral Birth Control
Menopause and post menopause can be a trying time for some women. Hormone therapy and birth control pills often ease the symptoms. However, they increase your risk of developing breast-related cancer. You can’t make lifestyle changes and continue to take oral contraceptives.
Talk to your doctor and explore other menopause treatments if possible, such as estrogen only that can lower your risk. Use hormone therapy as a last resort.
Taking hormone therapy won’t just increase your breast cancer risk. It also increases your risk for other cancers: ovarian and uterine. Women who take hormones generally develop aggressive forms of cancer that quickly spread. These risks remain up to three years after you stop taking the hormones.
Premenopause women do have a slightly higher risk of cancer from taking oral birth control. If you have a history of cancer, you might wish to discuss other options with your doctor.
Surgery isn’t for everyone. Mastectomies might be the right course for a select few who are extremely high risk. Some women also have their ovaries removed too. Surgeries do lower your risk greatly, but don’t protect you 100% against cancer. They also introduce new side effects and possible issues.
Who should consider surgery:
- Strong family history
- Gene mutation
- Previous lobular carcinoma in situ
- Cancer in one breast
14. Vitamin D
A recent study shows promise in using Vitamin D to prevent cancer in the breasts. The large four-year study combined separate clinical trials and showed a decrease in cancer risk for participants who took the supplement. Participants in one of the study groups had a decrease of 82% in cancer development.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for our health, and just one of many linked to cancer prevention. Whole food sources are best, but you can take a supplement too.
15. Breastfeed for One Year if Possible
Not every woman can or will breastfeed their children, but if you’re looking for positive reasons to do so, a reduced cancer risk is a great one. The longer you breastfeed, the more you reduce your risks, according to this 2010 study.
One study shows up to a 20% reduction in aggressive cancer risk.
Science is still uncovering exactly why long term breastfeeding reduces your risk for cancer. Two main factors are lower levels of estrogen and fewer periods. A third prominent element is that the majority of breastfeeding women have healthier lifestyles and diets than non-breastfeeding women; however, that’s a common hypothesis.
Some women might choose not to breastfeed, or their baby refuses to breastfeed. If you choose to pump, you’ll still see a decrease in your cancer risk. This could be a viable breast cancer prevention for lactating women who face issues with breastfeeding.
Final Thoughts on Breast Cancer Prevention
Breast cancer prevention and early detection are your greatest defenses against developing the disease. Understand and determine your risk level first.
The various ways you can reduce your risks can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Go through the list, read it twice, and take a breath. A few tips might not apply to apply to you, and that’s okay. We’re all different. Every step you decide to take today will put you on the right path for tomorrow.