Did you know 8 out of 10 women who get breast cancer have no family history? Despite recent publicity about genetic testing and the breast cancer gene, your genetics aren’t a reliable predictor of whether you’ll develop the disease.
Cancer is a frustrating game of odds, but when it comes to breast cancer, lifestyle habits seem to some impact. With this in mind, here are 6 things you can do to minimize your risk.
1. Move more
Research increasingly shows that long periods of sitting contribute to health problems. If you sit still for more than six hours a day, you have a 10 percent greater risk of developing invasive breast cancer than women who sit fewer than three hours a day.
Why is this true? Experts are still sorting out the reasons. So far, the consensus seems to be that sitting is part of a collection of lifestyle issues that allow cancer to flourish, like weight gain, blood sugar problems, inflammation and a poor diet.
2. Limit alcohol
You may have heard that having a couple glasses of wine is good for heart health. While this may be true, consuming 2 to 3 alcoholic drinks a day increases your risk of cancer by 20 percent.
Reduce your risk of breast cancer by drinking in moderation - meaning just 1 glass of alcohol a day, maximum. The American Cancer Society defines 1 glass as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
3. Breastfeed, if possible
Women who breastfeed a baby for at least a few months have a reduced incidence of breast cancer. The longer you breastfeed, the larger the reduction in risk. Research shows that the reason is probably hormonal, but the precise explanation is unknown.
4. Avoid weight gain
A high BMI is associated with higher breast cancer risk, especially for menopausal women. Fat tissue becomes your primary source of estrogen as you age and overall estrogen level drops. This higher level of estrogen, combined with a higher level of insulin, increases your chance of developing breast cancer.
This effect is most pronounced in women who were previously at a medically average BMI and moved into the overweight or obese category during adulthood. So if you’re already at a healthy weight, work to stay there. If you’re overweight, losing even a small amount of weight can improve your health outlook.
5. Skip HRT
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) had a brief round of popularity among doctors due to its ability to reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms of menopause. Unfortunately, studies soon revealed that the combination of estrogen and progestin in HRT increased the risk of breast cancer. Not a good trade-off!
Today some doctors still recommend very low-dose HRT in some situations, depending on your health history. If you have bothersome menopause symptoms, talk to your doctor to determine the pros and cons of hormone therapy.
6. Eat your greens
Wouldn’t it be great if kale could prevent breast cancer? It can’t, but an overall healthy diet does contribute to cancer prevention and overall health. Eat a diet rich in leafy green vegetables, vitamins, and nutrients.
Some research shows that a diet supplemented with fish, extra-virgin olive oil, mixed nuts, whole grains, and plant-based foods can help ward off cancer. Often called the Mediterranean diet, it incorporates lots of vegetables and trades unhealthy fats, like red meat, for lean ones, like fish.
Concerned about cancer? Contact the Johnson Memorial Health Cancer Care Center or read more about it on our blog.