Perk Up & Listen: Breast Cancer & Early Prevention

Statistically speaking, breast cancer is something that will touch all of us in one way or another during our lifetimes. And if you’re a woman, the chances of it being you personally facing the diagnosis jump up exponentially—especially if you have a family history of breast cancer. Statistics offered by the American Cancer Society have shown that breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women aside from skin cancers, and the average risk of a woman in the U.S. developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12 percent. To put it in more understandable terms, that means that one in eight will develop breast cancer. On the flip side, that also means that seven out of eight women will never have the disease. Even so, about 40,920 women are expected die from breast cancer in 2018.

Research has shown that having a family history of breast cancer is extremely concerning when it comes to your risk-factor, of course, but studies have shown that making lifestyle changes decreases the risk of breast cancer risk even for women considered to be high-risk. Fortunately, they’re very manageable if you put your mind to it and remember what the end goal is—to be happy, healthy, and cancer-free.

Regardless of what lifestyle changes you might make, self-awareness is also important—especially in terms of detection. Do a self-exam regularly and pay attention to any changes you see or feel in your breasts like a lump or changes in your skin; and if you notice anything, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Based on your age and your personal and family history, you’ll also get a better idea of when you should have your first mammogram and how often you should have them. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better you’ll be able to fight it and the higher your survival chances will be.

Generally, the American Cancer Society recommends that women with a normal risk for breast cancer should consider having an annual mammogram when they reach the age of 40-44, but it’s not completely necessary until they reach the age of 45-54. Women over the age of 55 can switch to a mammogram every other year or continue yearly mammograms. Naturally, women who have a higher risk of breast cancer due to factors like strong family history of breast cancer, past personal history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation like the BRCA gene known to increase risk of breast cancer should follow their doctor’s recommendations on when to have a mammogram.

As research continues and we find better ways to prevent or detect cancer at an earlier stage, we continue to hope that science and medicine will also develop more effective ways of treating and eradicating the disease completely. We’re gaining ground and making significant strides toward that reality—and learning the power of fighting like a girl.

Limit your alcohol intake

High consumption of alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer, so it’s advisable to limit yourself to less than one drink per day; but even a small amount can increase your risk.

Be smoke-free

Particularly in premenopausal women, smoking has been proven to have a link to breast cancer. The fact that it’s just plain unhealthy for your body should be reason enough not to light up, but if you want to reduce your chances of breast cancer, kick the habit or don’t start it at all.

Maintain a healthy weight

Whether you realize it or not, your weight poses a significant risk to your breast health, and being overweight or obese increases your chances for developing breast cancer. This is especially true for postmenopausal women whose obesity occurs later in life.

Stay active

We all know that exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, and that’s hugely important to staying cancer-free and reducing your risk. Try to get a weekly minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or log at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, and don’t forget to strength train as well and shoot for hitting the weights at least twice a week.

Breast-feed your babies

Studies have shown that breast-feeding plays a potential role in breast cancer prevention, and the longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect will be.

Avoid being exposed to radiation

Helpful though they might be in making diagnoses, medical-imaging systems use high doses of radiation that can be potentially risky to the development of breast cancer. Reduce your exposure—and your risk—by undergoing such testing methods only when it’s considered absolutely necessary.

Eat healthfully

As you make lifestyle changes, also remember to assess what’s on your plate. Maintaining a healthy diet is believed to help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer—and you already know it’s a good idea to eat healthfully to prevent diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Diets that include a lot of the good, healthy fats and omega-3s as well as plant-based proteins and sources of fiber are especially something to focus on if you’re hoping to reduce the risk factor. Plus this type of diet helps manage your weight, another key part of staying cancer-free.

To donate to the cause, visit websites for Susan G. Komen Foundation, American Breast Cancer Society, Young Survival Coalition, and Breast Cancer Alliance.