10 ways to reduce your risk for breast cancer


Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 11:42 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 11:42 a.m.

You don't have to get breast cancer.

The disease, projected to affect one in eight women throughout the course of her life, can be stopped if women take preventative measures, according to breastcancer.org, a nonprofit that provides up-to-date information about breast cancer.

In 2011, doctors recorded 230,480 cases of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2009, that number hovered around 192,000.

Although the numbers suggest an uptick in cancer cases, Schwartz said the numbers are more reflective of women catching changes in their bodies earlier.

“We're discovering breast cancer a lot sooner,” said Diana Schwartz, community representative for the North Central Unit of the American Cancer Society. “Noticing changes in your own body is one of the most important ways to know if something's wrong.”

The five-year survival rate for breast cancer by the time it has metastasized sits at 23 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. When detected early, the five-year survival rate soars to 99 percent.

Below are 10 ways to minimize the risk of a breast cancer scare.

1) Get screened — early and often.

Clinical exams, Schwartz said, should begin with the first physician visit at age 20 and occur every three years. For women who are 20, there is a 1 in 1,681 chance of developing breast cancer.

When women turn 40, there is a 1 in 69 chance of developing the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. At that point, Schwartz said, women should have an annual mammogram.

In North Central Florida, the UF&Shands High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic offers screenings on the first and third Mondays of the month for women who have an above-average risk for cancer based on family history, previous breast biopsies and breast density.

The Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Screening Program, provides reduced-cost and free mammograms to low-income, uninsured women between ages 50 and 64.

2) Limit alcohol intake.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation reports that women who have three to six drinks a week versus women who don't drink have a 15 percent higher risk of developing cancer.

3) Don't smoke.

Smoking increases the risk of developing breast cancer in women who have a slow-acting form of the NAT2 gene, according to breastcancer.org. The gene is responsible for deactivating carcinogens as they enter the body. The risk for breast cancer is 27 percent higher for women with the gene who smoke.

4) Stock up on vitamin D.

Vitamin D, most easily obtained through 15 minutes in the sun three times a week, is believed to have a role in controlling normal breast cell growth. Women with lower amounts of vitamin D, according to breastcancer.org, have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

5) Exercise often.

Exercising between four and seven hours every week reduces the risk for breast cancer because exercise reduces the amount of fat cells in the body, important because fat cells produce estrogen, according to the American Cancer Society. The fewer fat cells, the smaller the chance that breast cells will be exposed to unneeded amounts of estrogen that can spike the risk of developing cancer.

6) Watch your diet.

According to the Mayo Clinic, fruits and vegetables do not directly reduce the risk of breast cancer, but they help maintain a healthy weight, an important factor in breast cancer. The website choosemyplate.gov displays nutritional information and offers tips on healthy eating.

7) Limit light exposure at night.

Low melatonin levels are suspected to have a role in breast cancer, according to breastcancer.org. Melatonin regulates the body's sleep cycle and production peaks at night when it's dark, and is lowest during the day, when the body registers high light exposure. Women who work at night tend to have lower melatonin levels, increasing the risk for breast cancer.

8) Breastfeed for at least a year.

If you have children, the American Cancer Society suggests breastfeeding. When women breastfeed, they have fewer menstrual cycles — tacked onto the nine they miss during pregnancy — which lowers estrogen levels and reduces the risk for breast cancer.

9) Limit plastic use.

Plastic carries the chemical bisphenol A, BPA, a weak synthetic estrogen that acts as a hormone disrupter. BPA, according to breastcancer.org, affects how estrogen and other hormones work by blocking or mimicking them, throwing off hormonal balance and increasing the risk for cancer.

10) Avoid hormone replacement therapy, if possible.

Hormone therapy, used to alleviate menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and fatigue, increases the risk for breast cancer, according to breastcancer.org. Combination HRT, which uses the hormones estrogen and progesterone, increases the risk for breast cancer by 75 percent. Estrogen-only HRT also increases the risk for breast cancer, but only after it has been used for 10 consecutive years.

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