Healthy Living: How to Reduce your Risk of Breast Cancer. 💞
Think of 8 women you love.
Now, imagine all 8 of them gathered in one room.
Can you imagine one of them could be diagnosed with breast cancer?
1 in 8.
1 in every 8 American women will develop breast cancer at some point in her life.
I know … Pretty hard to imagine, isn’t it? But it’s true.
So, since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to share a message of empowerment with you.
You have the power to reduce your risk of breast cancer. This isn’t talked about nearly enough. What happens to your body is always a combination of your genes AND your environment. The power of your genes must be considered in the context of your environment. And while you can’t control or change your genes, you can control or change your environment.
How you feed your body, move your body, clean your body and pamper your body directly correlates to the probability of a breast cancer diagnosis. More importantly, your intention and attention in these areas will improve your chances of living your entire life with your two breasts - and your life - intact. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
Studies have shown that if you have developed to a healthy weight by the age of 18, and you maintain it, you are less likely to develop cancer. More specifically, gaining more than 20 pounds in adulthood (meaning after the age of 18), increases the risk of developing breast cancer. And there’s lots of discussion about how to define a healthy weight and no concept is perfect, let’s use body mass index (BMI) for simplicity’s sake. A BMI of 18.5 - 24.9 is considered “healthy.” Click here to calculate your BMI.
2. Eat veggies and fruits.
The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits daily is linked to a lower risk of developing breast cancer. By eating more plants, you’re giving your body beneficial vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. You’re also eating more fiber which is directly linked to maintaining a healthy weight.
3. Move your body with intention.
Research has shown that 150 minutes per week (think of 5 30-minute sessions) of moderate intensity exercise will improve your breast health.
For high intensity exercise, 75 minutes of exercise will do.
To give you some context, moderate exercise gets your heart rate up and warms you up. You should be able to converse through it. Maybe this is a brisk walk with a friend.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t be able to hold a conversation through a high-intensity workout. Your heart rate will be higher and you’re likely sweating. This is more like a sprint or a tabata class.
4. Watch your alcohol intake.
The recommendations regarding alcohol have changed swiftly.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drinking alcohol is one of the biggest modifiable risk factors for breast cancer. More specifically, with each alcoholic drink per day, the relative risk of breast cancer increases by 7%.
Drinking even small amounts of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. But, “moderate drinking,” defined as 1 alcoholic drink per day for women, is associated with a 30 - 50% increased risk of breast cancer. Just a reminder that your baseline risk of developing breast cancer is 13%.
To be sure, one alcoholic drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. One alcoholic drink isn’t “healthier” than another and there is no “safe” amount of alcohol to drink.
5. Check yourself.
In order to take care of yourself, you need to get to know your body. Really - if you don’t, who else will?! Breast self-exams are an irreplaceable part of your self-care.
Please don’t be scared of the breast exam. Again, it’s your body. And it’s simple. Pick the same date each month (for example, the 15th) and check yourself! The shower works for me but do what works for you. The more you do it; the more likely you’ll be to notice any changes.
If you’d like a little guidance, yes, there’s an app for that. You can download Keep a Breast here.
6. Clean up your clean-up routine.
Did you know that your skin is your body’s largest organ? Well, it is! So, to optimize your breast health, be as intentional about what you put on your body as you are about what you put in your body. In fact, what you put on your body often gets in your body through your skin.
So, you need to know what to look for on personal care product labels and you need to know why it matters. You also deserve to know that personal care products are incredibly under-regulated in the U.S. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates food and pharmaceuticals does not regulate cosmetics. Still, the FDA does study cosmetics and has decided that the personal care products on the market are “safe enough.”
But here’s what we know - many of these products contain chemicals that are linked to serious diseases like breast cancer. The FDA may say they’re “safe enough” but you have to investigate and advocate for yourself. So, I believe you can lower your risk by avoiding three chemicals as much as possible:
Parabens are chemicals that are added to personal care products like shampoo in order to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. They’re also found in cosmetics, lotions, sunscreen, gum and mouthwash. And parabens have been measured in the urine of over 90% of Americans … Yuck!
Parabens are considered endocrine disruptors which means they disrupt your hormones. In the case of parabens, they can augment or even mimic estrogen which increases the growth of breast tissue. And unchecked breast tissue growth can lead to cancer.
When you’re looking for parabens in products, look for ingredients that contain the word “paraben.” But also look for hydroxylbenzoate if you’re ready to go paraben-free.
UV filters or sunscreen is added to moisturizers, creams and lotions to protect your skin from harmful UV-A and UV-B rays, and they’ve been so important to skin cancer education and prevention.
However, they have been linked to higher rates of breast cancer. Like parabens, UV filters are hormone disruptors, mimicking estrogen. And unchecked estrogen is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
The sunscreens to avoid contain octinoxate, octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone, oxybenzone and PABA.
At this time, zinc-based sunscreens are a great choice.
This is a big one. Fragrance, which can be made of approximately 4000 chemicals, is everywhere! Even “unscented” fragrances in personal care products contain fragrance. And a product label doesn’t have to tell you which ones or how much!
When you’re ready to buy your next sunscreen or anything, look for the words “fragrance” or “parfum.” I also recommend avoiding products with “phthalates” which is a code word for fragrance! Phthalates are also hormone disruptors that may increase your breast cancer risk.
To find phthalates or any other chemical hiding in your personal care products or see your products’ safety ratings, head to Skin Deep by the Environmental Working Group.
With these 6 steps, you have the power to improve your breast health which will improve your overall health.
Enjoy your October and share this post with someone who has breasts.
by Brittny Howell, MD