A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is approximately one in eight. In addition to following the early detection guidelines, there are habits women should pick up to protect themselves against increasing their risk of developing breast cancer.
The following tips for women are meant to help you protect your breast health while monitoring any changes . This way, problems can be caught early. Early detection has been shown to be a key factor in surviving a breast cancer diagnosis.
You’re In Your 20s
The habits you develop in your 20s can help reduce your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
- Get a clinical breast exam and become breast aware. A clinical breast exam is a physical breast exam performed by a medical professional. During your 20s, a clinical breast exam and discussion about your overall health and personal risk factors is a good way to take stock of what’s “normal” for you. The American Cancer Society recommends that women receive a clinical breast exam every three years in their 20s and 30s. Some doctors consider breast self-exams optional, but it’s a smart idea to be familiar with your breasts so that you will notice any small changes which you’ll want to bring to the attention of your doctor.
- Find out if you are high risk. If breast cancer runs in your family, you’ll want to discuss with your doctor a personal plan for understanding your risk. For example, you may want to consider being tested for the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutations, which are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Drink less alcohol. Dr. Anne McTiernan, the author of “Breast Fitness: An Optimal Exercise and Health Plan for Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer” advocates no more than one drink per day. Alcohol use increases your risk for breast cancer. McTiernan notes that one drink a day does not mean you can abstain all week and drink a week’s worth of drinks on Saturday night.
- New moms should breastfeed for at least six months. Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, specifically for women who breast feed for one and a half to two years. A study released by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center showed breastfeeding six months or longer reduced breast cancer risk by 20 percent.
- Exercise and eat right! Exercising at least 30 minutes per day, whether it’s by walking, biking, jogging, dancing or any other physical activity can reduce your breast cancer risk by about 20 percent. Plus, it’s a habit that is good for your bones, joints, heart and overall health. Eating healthy means limiting your intake of red meat to four ounces per day on average and avoiding processed meats like sausage and bologna. In addition, the National Cancer Institute has for years recommended eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
You’re In Your 30s
Although breast cancer rates for women in their 30s are still pretty low, it’s time to start monitoring your breasts for changes. Cultivating breast health awareness is key in this decade. In addition to continuing the healthy habits you cultivated in your 20s, there are a few more things you can consider:
- Get a clinical breast exam and become breast aware. Continuing to receive clinical breast exams every three years while in your 30s is part of the American Cancer Society’s early detection guidelines.
- Evaluate your risk to determine a plan of action. Monitor your own breasts for changes and report any concerns to your doctor. If you’re in a high risk group due to family history, your doctor may want you to start getting annual mammograms or MRIs. Additionally, your doctor can
- Keep stress in check. A recent study in Israel of women under 45 found that exposure to several stressful life events, such as divorce or death of parents, was associated with breast cancer. Cultivating happiness and optimism boosts your natural defense against illness. Simply adopting a “don’t worry, be happy” mantra won’t protect you from cancer, but a positive outlook will help you stick to all the other good habits you’ve developed, contributing to an overall healthy lifestyle.
You’re In Your 40s
When you hit 40, you really need to start being vigilant about your health. At this point in life, breast cancer rates start to increase. In addition to limiting alcohol, eating right, exercising and limiting stress, remember to do the following:
- Schedule an annual mammogram and clinical exam. The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older get a mammogram and a clinical breast exam every year. Also, stay familiar with your own breasts: If you notice any changes, tell your doctor about them immediately. Chances are good that any changes you notice, such as fibrocystic breast changes, are harmless, but it’s still essential to have anything new or unusual checked out.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to cancer-causing substances. This includes radiation and chemicals. Make sure that any physician who orders an x-ray for you, especially high dose types like CT scans, knows how many other xrays you’ve had. Unless it’s an emergency situation, you should ask if there are alternative examinations for your situation, such as an ultrasound or MRI. Your doctor will help you weigh the relative risk of momentary exposure to radiation versus not having an X-ray or CT scan that may be medically necessary. Scientists have identified over 200 potential breast carcinogens. Learn about them through the American Cancer Society’s analysis. Opt for foods and products containing mostly natural ingredients.
If You’re In Your 50s and Over
As menopause hits, the risk of developing breast cancer rises. The average age of a woman who receives a breast cancer diagnosis is 62, which is why women in their 60s need to be more vigilant than ever about breast health. Taking care of your health beginning at age 50 is critical to reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. In addition to continuing to receive annual mammograms, eating right and staying active, there are a few additional habits you can pick up to reduce your risk of a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Avoid alcohol as much as possible. A recent National Cancer Institute study of postmenopausal women found that women who had one to two small drinks a day were 32 percent more likely to develop the most common type of breast cancer. Women who had three drinks or more had as high as 51 percent increased risk.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. A healthy weight is a body mass index (BMI) of 25 percent or less. Research has shown that being overweight or obese (specifically in post menopausal women) increases your risk, even if you put the weight on as an adult. Additionally, overweight women had lower breast cancer survival rates and a greater chance of more aggressive disease than average weight or underweight women.
- Avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Hormone replacement therapy definitely increases breast cancer risk, although for women with major menopausal issues, doctors at the Fred Hutchison Cancer recommend limited courses of HRT for no more than five years.
- Up your vitamin D intake. Although the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 400 IUs, some researchers think that higher levels – 1,000 IUs a day – is a convenient and low cost way to reduce breast cancer risk. To check your levels of vitamin D, ask your doctor for a blood test. He or she will help you determine if a supplement would be beneficial for you.
No matter what your age, the habits you develop to stay healthy also help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. While eating right, exercising and following the guidelines for early detection don’t guarantee that you won’t develop breast cancer, they are good habits to improve your life overall and limit unnecessary increases to your breast cancer risk.
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