There are several risk factors for breast cancer that you cannot control: being a female, age, family history, genetics and race. Then there are factors you can control: weight, exercise, diet, alcohol consumption, smoking and hormone exposure.
“Knowing the risk factors and proactively embracing the factors you can control is the best way to prevent breast cancer or at the very least promote early detection,” says Barry Roseman, M.D., a breast surgeon and surgical oncologist at Piedmont.
Here are six factors you can control to boost breast health:
1. Maintain a healthy weight
The relationship between obesity and breast cancer is not fully understood, but we do know maintaining a healthy weight has a host of benefits, including reducing the risk of breast cancer. In obese women, estrogen-sensitive breast tissue is exposed to more estrogen than in women of a healthy weight. This can stimulate the growth and progression of breast cancer.
2. Exercise 30 minutes a day, at least four to five days each week
Women who are physically active are 25 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who do not exercise. Research shows that regular exercise boosts immune function, helps contribute to a healthy weight, lowers levels of estrogen and insulin, and improves bone mass — all of which lower your risk of breast cancer.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
It is believed that good nutrition can help prevent cancer, including breast cancer, and can slow or prevent the disease’s progression or recurrence. A preventative diet includes five to eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day, an increase in omega-3 fatty acids, and limits excessive refined sugars and fats.
There are also some cancer-fighting foods like broccoli, cabbage, kale, watermelon and whole grains that are beneficial if consumed on a regular basis.
4. Limit alcohol to one drink per day
Women who drink more than one alcoholic beverage per day put themselves at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, women who have three or more drinks per week after being diagnosed with breast cancer run a greater risk that their breast cancer will recur.
5. Not smoking
Studies have shown that smoking is linked to breast cancer and that people who smoke in their teenage years are more likely to develop breast cancer before menopause. Cigarette smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals that are absorbed into your body and affect your health in a host of ways.
6. Hormone exposure
A woman's risk for breast cancer is associated with lifetime exposure to estrogen. So women who have pregnancies, breastfeed and start their menstrual cycle later benefit from those temporary breaks in estrogen. There are also a host of hormones in foods and chemicals people consume, inhale, or are exposed to in other ways that may interfere with hormone production.
“Experts have a handle on the risk factors that play a role in breast health. By embracing these six factors you can set yourself up for the best defense against breast cancer, while also enjoying better energy and lower stress levels,” Dr. Roseman says.
Join all of us at Piedmont as we work together to fight breast cancer. Do a monthly breast self-exam and schedule a regular mammogram.
Learn more about cancer prevention and treatment.