The good news: Just about everyone knows what the pink breast cancer-awareness ribbon means. The bad: Despite the multibillions of dollars in research into the disease, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in American women.
Knowing that, it’s almost impossible not to worry about the disease striking you or someone you love. But we all also know that worry gets us nowhere and taking positive action (in this case, preventive action) is a far better use of our time.
Some risk factors can’t be altered. Not much you can do about being a woman, being a woman who’s 50 or older, genetics, or your family or menstrual history. But you can affect other risk factors with healthy lifestyle choices, giving those mammary glands of yours the best possible chance of remaining cancer-free.
Just Do It: Get the Breast Exam
Let’s be honest. No one looks forward to a mammogram. No matter which way you turn it, literally and figuratively, it’s uncomfortable.
But the peace of mind those annual tests bring is worth a few minutes of discomfort. Chances are you’ll get a clean bill of health and, even if you don’t, you’re detecting trouble early and at a time when it’s most easily treatable.
The current wisdom about this is if you’re between 40 and 44, and don’t have increased risk for breast cancer, you should decide whether you want to start annual mammograms. Definitely get the screening if you’re between 45 and 54. Then after 55, you can choose to continue yearly mammograms or switch to every other year. (And all of you under 40 years old, who aren’t at an increased risk, keep getting clinical exams at the doctor’s office.)
Breast self-exams are a good idea, too. Regularly examining your breasts on your own, with well-placed circular motions and a few checks in the mirror, is easy.
And what should you do if you find a lump? First, don’t panic because, often times, new lumps in the breast turn out to be benign. Next, call your doctor.
Don’t Tip the Scale
No doubt about it: Maintaining a healthy weight is difficult.
But it is nonetheless a key factor in reducing the risk of breast cancer. That’s because having more fat cells means more estrogen and insulin in the body and both of those hormones have been linked to breast cancer.
So, if you’re looking for a new reason to keep fighting the battle of the bulge, this is it. Stock up on fruits and veggies, talk to your family doctor about weight loss, and embrace that new fitness routine—and, all the while, decrease your possibility of breast cancer along with the number on the scale.
Put Down the Wine (or Beer or Liquor) Bottle and Pick Up the Water Bottle
Teetotalling isn’t necessary. But thinking before you turn that post-work cocktail into a post-work habit will decrease your risks for getting a breast cancer diagnosis.
The best scenario, of course, really is to abstain. If that’s not realistic (and it isn’t for a lot of us), women should try to keep it to two alcoholic drinks per week. That’s because three is the magic number when you’re increasing your risk of breast cancer. And, in case you were wondering, yes, the risk does increase with every drink per week you add.
Don’t Smoke ‘Em, Even if You Got ‘Em
Not only has smoking been linked to breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women, it also complicates breast cancer treatment. Smokers risk a greater chance of damage to their lungs during radiation therapy, difficulty healing after surgery, and blood clots.
Let the Sunshine In
Research shows that women with low levels of vitamin D may have a higher risk of breast cancer, so if you’re a sun worshipper, look no further for an excuse to enjoy a few minutes of the sun’s rays each day. Other options are taking vitamin D3 supplements and eating foods rich in the vitamin.
Keep the Chemicals Out
Although it’s pretty much impossible to live a chemical-free lifestyle, reducing the number and amount of chemicals you’re exposed to can also reduce your cancer risks. They show up in everything from pesticides on produce to more chemicals on your lawn and in your garden.
Studying which ones to look for and avoid will arm you with enough information to reduce your exposure.
Nothing on this list will guarantee you won’t get breast cancer. But taking these precautions can dramatically lower the odds. And if you’re looking for more advice, take our breast cancer risk survey and schedule an appointment with our staff at Hancock Women + Children. We’re committed to great breast health not just at awareness events, but every day of the year.