Breast cancer is one of those diseases that seems to pop up everywhere, in part because it’s one of the most common types of cancer. In fact, one in every eight women will develop a form of invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, and 268,600 women are expected to develop breast cancer this year alone. Women approaching the age of menopause are most at risk, but younger women can get breast cancer, too.
Women of any age can take steps to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer and improve their overall health and lifestyle. Many of these are healthy habits you may already be working on.
Alcohol is a big risk factor for breast cancer, as it can increase levels of estrogen in the body, and potentially damage cell DNA. The more you drink, the greater your risk. Researchers recommend less than one drink per day, as even small amounts of alcohol can increase your risk level.
Studies have shown a link between smoking and breast cancer, especially among younger women. It’s unhealthy for a variety of other reasons, including the increased risk of lung cancer and emphysema. For your overall health, it’s best to give up the habit.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Weight gain can contribute to a variety of health issues, including risk for breast cancer, especially for women past menopause. The body’s main source of estrogen after menopause is fat tissue. The more fat you have, the higher your estrogen levels will become, which can lead to a greater breast cancer risk.
To help combat this risk, it’s important to maintain a healthy, steady weight.
They go hand in hand: To control your weight you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise—at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
Physical activity burns fat, which in turn helps reduce your risk of breast cancer by eliminating the extra storage of estrogen. So whether you like to run, walk, lift weights, hike, bike, or swim, find a routine that works for your lifestyle and make sure to keep up with it.
Talk to Your Doctor About Hormone Therapy
Menopause is not an easy transition for many women, and hormone therapy is one method of helping ease troublesome symptoms. It may also increase risk for breast cancer, especially if the treatments are given for three to five years. There are other options, including non-hormonal and drug treatments. Knowing the foods that agree with you can also help. But it’s best to discuss with your doctor which options are right for you, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Breast feeding has had its fair share of debate on whether it’s good, bad, healthy, or the best choice. Studies have shown that breast feeding can reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer by decreasing her lifetime exposure to hormones, like estrogen. And during breastfeeding, the body sheds breast tissue, removing cells with possible DNA damage. This too may reduce breast cancer risk.
Reduce Radiation and Pollution Exposure
While more testing needs to be done, there are connections between breast cancer development and high doses of radiation, which can be found in medical-imaging methods. These risks are increased among smokers. To reduce your risk, have these types of tests done only when absolutely necessary and be sure to talk to your doctor about radiation testing or treatments to fully understand your risks.
Breast cancer may be one of the most common forms of cancer, and there may be some things we can’t do to change the risks (like aging and being a woman). But by attending to your overall health throughout your life, you can reduce risks, feel better, and put yourself in a healthier position for any health battles that may come your way.