One in nine women in Canada will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Having regular checkups, doing breast self-exams, and getting regular mammograms help in early detection when the breast cancer is most treatable, but what about taking steps to prevent breast cancer in the first place?
There are certain factors that increase your risk of breast cancer, but about which you can do nothing. These are:
- Gender: More than 99% of breast cancers occur in women
- Having a close relative(s) with breast cancer
- Age: risk increases as you get older
- Early menstruation (before the age of 12) and late menopause (after age 55)
But there are other risk factors, which you can control. A recent report from World Cancer Research Fund indicates that some forty percent of breast cancer cases in industrialised countries are preventable through simple lifestyle changes. Here’s what you can do:
- Maintain healthy weight: You want your BMI to be under 25. Even being 10-12 pounds overweight increases your chances of getting breast cancer.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise: Exercise is beneficial regardless of how much you weigh, and more you do the better. Maintain sufficient intensity so that you feel warm and are breathing hard. Brisk walking for thirty minutes at least five times per week fits the bill.
- Quit smoking: Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are caused by tobacco smoke and some studies have found a link between breast cancer and tobacco smoke.
- Cut down on alcohol: There is no safe amount of alcohol. Even one glass of wine a day can increase your risk slightly, and the risk climbs with each additional drink. It’s best to avoid it altogether or drink moderately on special occasions.
- Have a baby before age 30: Having a first baby after age 30 or never having a baby increases your breast-cancer risk.
- Breastfeed your baby: Studies have found that breast-feeding reduces the risk of breast cancer and the longer the better. Aim for a minimum of four months.
- Have a healthy diet: Your diet should contain plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some fish and lean meat. Cut down on red and processed meats. These meats are a major source of saturated fat, which has been associated with breast cancer.
- Weigh the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT): HRT can relieve symptoms of menopause but increases the risk of breast cancer. If you decide to go on HRT, it’s best to take the lowest dose for the shortest period necessary.
- Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of birth control pills: Birth control pills can help prevent unwanted pregnancy, reduce menstrual cramps and bleeding, and manage acne and hair growth but they can also slightly increase your risk of breast cancer. Your doctor can give you the best advice based on your personal and family history, and your reasons for taking oral contraceptives.