According to the American Cancer Society, more than 200,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed every year and the National Breast Cancer foundation estimates that 40,000 women will die of the disease yearly.
That said, over 200,000 cases have been averted since 1991 due to mammography alone and though experts say there is no sure way to prevent the potentially fatal disease, there are several ways to reduce your risk of developing it significantly. Here are the top 10 ways to lower your chances of getting breast cancer.
1. Check your diet
The American Cancer Society lists being overweight or obese as a risk factor for breast cancer, especially for women after menopause, when — because the ovaries stop producing estrogen — most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. (Elevated estrogen levels may also raise the risk of breast cancer.) Research also indicates that women who gain weight as an adult are at a higher risk for breast cancer than women who have been overweight since childhood. Regardless, if you are overweight, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about dietary changes that can help you shed pounds and achieve a healthy body weight.
Though studies are at odds on whether or not fat intake is specifically linked to breast cancer, experts do agree that a high-fat diet can lead to weight gain which increases your risk. Similarly, some studies link eating habits to breast cancer, and others don’t.
So, you can and should maintain a balanced diet that is based on plant foods, including fruits and vegetables, while limiting consumption of processed foods and red meats. However, there is no way to guarantee that this alone will prevent the onset of beast cancer.
2. Exercise daily
Daily physical activity is not only essential for overall health, it also can reduce the risk of breast cancer. According to a study from the Women’s Health Initiative, as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours of brisk walking per week can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 18 percent, while walking 10 hours per week can reduce the risk even more. You also can run, bike, swim, hike and play sports to mix up your fitness routine and stay motivated. Aim for 45 to 60 minutes of exercise or moderate physical activity at least five days per week. At the very least, abide by a regimen of 30 minutes of daily physical activity.
3. Limit your alcohol use
Alcohol consumption is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer (as well as other types of cancer), and the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with non-drinkers, women who consume one alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in breast cancer risk, while women who have two to five drinks daily have about one-and-a-half times the risk of nondrinkers. If you are going to drink, limit your intake to one drink per day.
4. Breastfeed your baby
Research suggests that women who breastfeed their babies may have a slightly lower risk of developing breast cancer, especially if they continue breastfeeding for up to two years. Though breastfeeding for this long is uncommon in the United States, breastfeeding for even a few months is recommended. Experts believe that breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of breast cancer because it also reduces the total number of menstrual cycles a woman experiences, exposing her to lower levels of hormones related to breast cancer risk.
5. Don’t take postmenopausal hormone therapy
Research published in the April 2007 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the sharp decline in the rate of new breast cancer cases reported in 2003 may be related to a national decline in the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The study looked at the breast cancer incidence rates and HRT prescription rates after research was reported linking HRT to higher risks for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots and urinary incontinence among women using HRT that contained both estrogen and progestin. Talk to your doctor about alternatives to HRT if you are menopausal or reaching menopause and feeling challenged by the symptoms related to menopausal hormone changes.
6. Ask about genetic testing and know your family history
While this is a controversial method that is only covered under health insurance for certain women, it’s something to consider if you qualify for it. The most commonly talked about gene mutations are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. Though, there is also a much more rare string of gene mutations that can lead to breast cancer including ATM, TP53, CHEK 2 and more.
7. Stay away from secondhand smoke
Though research has not shown smokers to be an increased risk for breast cancer, studies have suggested that high concentrations of secondhand smoke can cause breast cancer in rodents. Further, a 2005 report from the California Environmental Protection Agency concludes that there is a causal association between secondhand smoke and breast cancer in younger, primarily premenopausal women. Since smoking and secondhand smoke are related to other types of cancer and medical conditions, kicking the habit will prove beneficial in reducing your risk of breast cancer as well as improving your overall health.
8. Avoid environmental carcinogens
Scientists are hard at work researching the link between environmental compounds and breast cancer. Of special interest are environmental substances found in lab studies to have estrogen-like properties, which theoretically could increase breast cancer risk. For example, substances found in some plastics, certain cosmetics and personal-care products, pesticides (such as DDE) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) seem to possess estrogen-like properties. A strong link between environmental compounds and breast cancer has not yet been found, but experts suggest avoiding suspect substances to be safe.
9. Clinical and self breast exams
In addition to monthly breast self exams, experts recommend that women see their healthcare providers to get clinical breast exams every three years if they’re under 40 and every year if they’re 40 or older. Healthcare providers can detect changes that women miss when doing breast self exams. They can also provide women with information on breast cancer prevention, taking family history and lifestyle into account. Early detection is crucial in preventing breast cancer from spreading and becoming more challenging to treat successfully.
You should also ask your doctor about getting an ultrasound if you are one of many women who have dense breast tissue (which your physician can see in your mammogram results). If they don’t tell you, ask. Dense breast tissues means your mammogram may not be enough to detect abnormalities in your breasts, so you may be getting false positives. It’s important to be persistent with your doctor when something feels wrong, even when they ensure you it’s right.
10. Get a mammogram
Breast self exams are an effective way for you to become familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can be aware of any changes that may indicate breast cancer. Mammograms, however, are the gold standard for detecting breast cancer and are recommended for women starting at age 40, or sooner if a healthcare provider needs to rule out breast cancer due to changes in the breast. Though a mammogram can’t prevent breast cancer, it can detect the disease in its earliest stages and prevent it from spreading and becoming a life-threatening condition.