Breast cancer prevention is not foolproof, but there are effective strategies to lower your risk significantly. With nearly a quarter of a million women expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, focusing on early detection and improved treatments is crucial. Although these advancements have significantly reduced mortality rates, ongoing research aims to discover disease prevention methods.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity to raise awareness and educate individuals about the importance of regular screenings, self-examinations, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is a time to come together as a community, supporting those affected by breast cancer and spreading knowledge about prevention strategies.
There’s no sure way to prevent breast cancer, but healthy habits significantly decrease your risk. Here are some of the healthy habits you can start making today.
1) Get at least 6 hours of sleep every night
A recent study has revealed that postmenopausal women with breast cancer who consistently sleep fewer than six hours per night may have a twofold increased risk of developing more aggressive forms of breast cancer than those who sleep longer.
According to Cheryl Thompson, Ph.D., the lead author from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, “Cancer is a disease of mistakes in our DNA. Sufficient sleep plays a critical role in maintaining our circadian rhythm, which is responsible for regulating our body’s natural DNA repair mechanisms. When this process is frequently disrupted, it can impair DNA correction.”
Suppose you find it challenging to achieve the recommended six-plus hours of sleep. You could explore online sleep-improvement programs like the Cleveland Clinic’s Go! to sleep. This program combines cognitive behavioral therapy techniques with helpful tools such as a daily sleep log and progress charts to assist you in improving your sleep patterns.
2) Lose weight
According to a recent study, the association between obesity and breast cancer is well-established. However, new research suggests that even being overweight, without reaching the threshold of obesity, can adversely affect those already diagnosed with breast cancer.
The study, which involved over 4,000 women, revealed that obesity increased the risk of cancer recurrence by 30% and the risk of death by 50% despite receiving optimal treatments like chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. Interestingly, the risk of recurrence also rose with increasing body mass index (BMI), even among women categorized as overweight. These findings mainly apply to women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, constituting approximately 65% of cases.
Joseph A. Sparano, M.D., the lead author from Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, states, “Increased levels of estrogen are associated with an elevated risk of breast cancer, and fat tissue produces excessive amounts of this hormone. Additionally, fat can lead to higher insulin levels, which may stimulate tumor growth.”
3) Eat more fruits and vegetables
According to the National Library of Medicine, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of breast cancer. However, foods containing carotenoids, such as carrots, squash, tomatoes, melon, and sweet potatoes, seem particularly beneficial.
A 2016 study, which analyzed over 1,500 breast cancer cases from multiple countries, linked high levels of beta-carotene and other carotenoids to a reduced risk of estrogen receptor tumors.
This finding supports previous comprehensive research that involved more than 3,000 participants and demonstrated a decreased likelihood of developing various types of breast cancers.
4) Lower alcohol consumption
The American Cancer Society’s guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention recommend limiting alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day. Research shows that consuming just two drinks a day may increase the risk of developing cancer by 21%, as an analysis of over 40 studies indicates.
“A possible reason is that alcohol consumption has been shown to elevate circulating estrogen levels in postmenopausal women,” explains lead author Marilyn Kwan, Ph.D., a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland. She further advises breast cancer survivors to consult with their doctors and consider limiting their alcohol intake to half a drink per day or three to four drinks per week.
5) Get up and move every day
According to the National Institutes of Health, engaging in any form of physical activity, whether walking, gardening, or doing the dishes, has been found to offer protection against breast cancer. The encouraging news is that there is always time to begin being physically active. A recent study indicates that women who started exercising after menopause still experienced a reduced risk of breast cancer.
“This is particularly encouraging given the late age of onset for the disease,” explains Lauren McCullough from the University of North Carolina. The research reveals that women who engaged in physical activity for 10 to 19 hours per week, regardless of intensity, experienced the most significant benefit with a reduced risk of about 30%.
This equates to approximately 90 minutes of daily activity, which may initially seem substantial. Still, it’s important to remember that every activity contributes to the overall count.
“Just take note of how long it takes to perform the activities you’re already doing every day and build on that,” advises McCullough. For instance, if you spend 15 minutes doing housework and another half hour in the garden, incorporate a 45-minute walk with your dog.
However, it’s essential not to use exercise as an excuse to gain weight. Researchers have discovered that active women who experience weight gain, especially after menopause, face an increased risk of developing breast cancer when considering the combined effects of physical activity, weight gain, and body size. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a healthy weight to preserve the beneficial effects of exercise.
You don’t have to do it alone.
Companions can support individuals on their breast cancer prevention journey by assisting in making healthy lifestyle changes, offering emotional support, and helping navigate challenges so you don’t have to do it alone. Companions also assist with household tasks and transportation to medical appointments, relieving practical burdens and allowing individuals to focus on their well-being.
Although breast cancer prevention is not foolproof, there are effective strategies that can significantly lower your risk. As we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, educating about prioritizing early detection and improved healthy habits becomes even more crucial. Together, we can strive to make breast cancer a thing of the past.
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