For many women, the words “breast cancer” are scary and can cause panic and worry, but they’re hard not to think about sometimes. Many people know a friend or loved one who has been touched by the disease, and there are many concerns about the causes of it. You might find yourself wondering if there’s anything you can do to be more proactive and help reduce your risk. The answer is “yes”. You can make some lifestyle changes to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.
To understand a bit of the current statistics, about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. It is considered the second most common cancer among U.S. women, behind skin cancer. Breast cancer occurs more often in women who are 50 years old or older, but men can also develop the disease. Although scientists have identified many risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer, they do not yet know what causes normal cells to become cancerous. Experts tend to agree that breast cancer is caused by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors.
10 Things You Can Do to Help Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer prevention begins with identifying causes and maintaining healthy habits. While there is no surefire way to completely prevent the disease, there are a number of things you can do to help lower your risk of getting it.
Exercise more often. Engaging in regular exercise can help boost your body’s immune system, maintain a healthy weight, and possibly even lower your estrogen levels, thus decreasing the chance that you’ll get breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society(1), adults should engage in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity every week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week to lower your risk of developing cancer -- that’s a minimum of just 20 minutes per day! And, if you have daughters, statistics have shown that women who exercised or played sports more than seven hours a week during ages 5-19 had lower risk of breast cancer as adults.
You can find some helpful, regularly updated, at-home exercise routines in our Monthly Calendar of Free Online Exercise, Health & Fitness Events.
- Maintain a healthy weight. According to research(2), women who gain at least 55 pounds after 18 years of age are 45% more likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer. The more fat tissue you have in your body, the more estrogen your body has the potential to produce. It’s this excess estrogen that puts women at an increased risk for both breast and uterine cancers. Also, overweight women tend to have higher insulin levels, which have also been linked to breast cancer. Practicing portion control, making necessary dietary shifts, and regular physical activity are all components of a successful weight loss/management effort and can help protect against breast cancer.
Balance your diet. It’s never too late to start improving your diet. Choose whole grains, opt for lots of fresh fiber-rich vegetables and colorful fruits, eat smaller portions, and limit sugar and processed foods to reduce weight gain and lower your risk of developing breast cancer. Specifically, experts suggest eating a range of cruciferous veggies like kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli that contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Eating lean poultry like fish instead of red meat and adding other foods like nuts, salmon, and olive oil may also help lower your cancer risk.
Taking your vitamins can help too. Postmenopausal women who had higher levels of vitamin D in their blood or who reported taking vitamin D supplements at least four times a week had lower rates of breast cancer.
Get enough sleep. Easier said than done, right? We get it: Sleep is a luxury and an afterthought for many women, particularly new mothers. However, it’s important to try to get between six and nine hours of sleep every night. A 2017 study(3) found an increased risk of breast cancer among women who had higher exposures to nighttime light, thus supporting the idea that disrupted circadian rhythms -- or the 24-hour cycle of day and night or wake and sleep -- are part of the equation.
And, try to find ways for consistency in your night’s sleep. An association was found between having trouble sleeping four or more nights per week with increased breast cancer risk.
- Limit alcohol. Compared to women who drink no alcohol at all, women who consume three alcoholic beverages per week are 15% more likely to develop breast cancer(4). Experts estimate that for each drink you have each day, your risk of developing breast cancer increases 10%. According to the American Cancer Society, women should consume no more than one alcoholic drink per day(5), which is the equivalent of 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of regular beer.
- Don’t smoke. We all know that smoking is unhealthy. But on top of causing wrinkles, bad teeth, and a smelly breath, smoking also lowers your quality of life and increases the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and at least 15 different types of cancer -- including breast cancer. The age when you started smoking, how much you smoke, and how long you continue to smoke all affect your likelihood of developing the disease. Now, that’s motivation to work to get smoke-free or stay smoke-free!
- Breastfeed your littles -- if you can. Not only does breastfeeding have great health benefits for your child, but studies also show that breastfeeding for at least 12 months can reduce the risk of breast cancer(6). This can be attributed to the fact that women who breastfeed have fewer menstrual cycles and, therefore, lower estrogen levels. These women may also be more likely to lead healthier lifestyles and eat more nutritious food while breastfeeding.
- Think twice about HRT. According to the American Cancer Society, the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause can increase the risk of breast cancer(7). While post-menopausal HRTs that use a combination of progestin and estrogen can help to prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and osteoporosis, experts recommend that women only take HRT for the shortest time possible -- and only if absolutely necessary. You may be able to manage your systems with estrogen-only hormone therapy or non-hormonal medications and therapies instead. If you’re considering HRT, be sure to talk to your doctor about the associated risks and whether HRT is right for you.
- Know your family’s health history. Women who have a family history of cancer -- about 5 to 10% of breast cancer is hereditary -- can take steps to lower their risk, so it’s important information to know. If you aren’t sure, now is the time to reach out to family members who may be able to help. You may be at high risk of developing breast cancer if you have a sister or mother who developed ovarian or breast cancer or if you have several family members -- including males -- who developed prostate, ovarian, or breast cancer. A genetic counselor or doctor can help you understand the disease as well as your family history.
- Schedule your mammogram. Despite some controversy, studies show that getting yearly mammograms can save lives, particularly because mammograms detect malignant tumors and other abnormalities that are often missed in a self-exam. While screening doesn’t prevent cancer per se, it can help your doctor detect cancer in its early stages -- when it’s most treatable. Although most women can begin getting regular mammograms as early as age 40, specific recommendations can vary by risk and age. For instance, mammograms are recommended every year for women between the ages of 45 and 54 and every other year -- or yearly, if desired -- for those 55 years of age and older.
Environmental Factors that Can Increase Your Risk of Breast Cancer
While we’ve covered just 10 things that are in your control, it’s just as important to be on the lookout for other potential risk factors that might be associated with environmental factors or toxins. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has an informative report on Breast Cancer Risk and Environmental Factors.
This report includes concerns for environmental exposures from things like chemicals found in common household and personal care products, pesticides, or other chemicals we come into contact with through foods and beverages, creams or lotions we use on our skin or the air we breathe and more.
Is There a Link Between Cell Phones and (Breast) Cancer?
In short, we don’t fully know, but we do know that more research is needed. 5G technology is here now, and there are increasing concerns about the effects that this new technology -- and its cell phone towers and stations -- will have on our bodies and overall health. While some experts believe that 5G produces radiofrequency radiation that can disrupt cell metabolism, can damage DNA, cause oxidative damage that results in premature aging, cause cancer, and possibly paves the way for other diseases by way of stress protein generation, others aren’t convinced. So, what can we do?
We can continue to take a proactive approach by making sure we’re keeping the recommended safe distance between our phones and our bodies, reserving the amount of time we’re on our phones, using hands-free technology like wired headsets whenever we can, and incorporating other, safer phone use options.
It’s also why we’ve developed our patented cell phone pocket for those times when we absolutely have to keep our phones on us -- and close to our bodies! This pocket is designed to keep your phone working while also helping to protect the body’s soft tissue, like breast tissue, from potentially harmful EMF that might cause bodily cellular disruption. You can currently find these protective phone carrying pockets in many of our sport tops & sports bras, with more designs coming soon!
While we should be able to trust that scientists will do everything they can to keep us safe, for now, we can remain diligent, proactive, and protect ourselves in as many ways possible. Ultimately, when it comes to breast cancer, it’s important to be informed, particularly because there’s a wealth of incorrect information out there about the disease.
To address some common myths(8):
- Wearing a bra, underwire or not, does not affect your chance of developing breast cancer in any way.
- Consuming a lot sugar in our diet will not put you at risk for breast cancer, however, it can put you at risk for other health issues like diabetes or heart disease.
- You will not increase your risk of getting breast cancer if you use antiperspirants or shave your underarms, but the safety of some antiperspirants is still being studied.
While October brings about pink ribbons, awareness of the disease, and fundraising for breast cancer research, it’s important to be proactive about your overall health and, specifically, breast health all year round.
References & Additional Reading:
(1) American Cancer Society – Fitting in Fitness
(2) Susan G. Komen - Factors that Affect Breast Cancer – Body Weight & Weight Gain
(3) Environmental Health Perspectives - Outdoor Light at Night and Breast Cancer Incidence in the Nurses’ Health Study II
(4) Breastcancer,org – Drinking Alcohol
(5) American Cancer Society – Alcohol Use and Cancer
(6) Susan G. Komen – Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Risk
(7) American Cancer Society – Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Cancer Risk
(8) Breastcancer,org – Breast Cancer Myths vs. Facts