A recent study revealed that one in three women are too scared to check their breasts for lumps—and a mere glance at the statistics might suggest why: One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of their lifetime and more than 250,000 cases are reported in the US annually, thus rendering breast cancer the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
But the terror such data can generate shouldn’t deter women from examinations—nor should the facts convince a woman she can’t take control of the matter.
“Cancer is not an inevitability,” says Margaret I. Cuomo, author of A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention. “Everything we do from the moment we wake is a factor that can turn on or off the genetic switches in our body, including ones that could lead to cancer. The risk of many cancers, including breast cancer, can be significantly reduced by living a healthy lifestyle.”
With that in mind, and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are six savvy lifestyle improvements you can make today—to beat the odds tomorrow:
Breast Cancer Awareness Tip: Keep Your Weight in Check
A study conducted by the American Cancer Society found that women who put on anywhere from 21 to 30 pounds after the age of eighteen were a whopping 40% more likely to develop breast cancer than those who hadn’t gained more than five pounds.
While we all know that excessive weight gain can do a number on our health, there’s a specific reason behind the hazards it poses in terms of our breasts.
“This higher risk is partially because fat cells make estrogen; extra fat cells mean more estrogen in the body, and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow,” says BreastCancer.org.
Which brings us to our next point…
Breast Cancer Awareness Tip: Get Your Heart Pumping
We don’t need scientists to tell us that exercise can be a huge boon for our brain and body—anyone who has ever walked out of a Vinyasa yoga class knows the truth of this.
But did you know that exercise can also work toward preventing breast cancer?
Take it from a professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota, Mindy Kruzer, PhD: “Among women who exercise, the ratio of ‘good’ estrogens to ‘bad’ estrogens (those that can damage DNA and increase a woman’s breast cancer risk) improved by roughly 25 percent,” she says. What’s more, “past research has shown that the greater this ratio, the lower a woman’s breast cancer risk.” As for women who flout exercise altogether? The radio “didn’t budge.”
This isn’t to say you must run a 10K, but it doesn’t suggest a gentle walk here and there suffices, either.
“Swimming, laps, doing aerobics, jogging—women who engage in strenuous activities like these at least five hours a week, and have done so for most of their adult lives, are 20 percent less likely to develop invasive breast cancer than are sedentary types who get no more than 30 minutes of exercise a week, reports the California Teachers Study, which has been tracking more than 110,000 women ages 20 to 79 since 1995,” Good Housekeeping reports.
Can’t seem to find the impetus for a major sweat session? Even moderate workouts, like golfing, can “cut the odds of developing one form of breast cancer (estrogen-receptor-negative) for which there are fewer effective treatments,” Good Housekeeping says.
Breast Cancer Awareness Tip: Banish Processed Meats
From bacon bits in your Cobb salad to downing a turkey-and-salami sub on a busy day, you may be eating more processed meats than you realize. And while “everything in moderation (including moderation)” mostly holds true, you may want to reconsider that ham croissant the next time you’re at the bakery.
The American Cancer Society reports that processed meats—such as ham, bacon, some deli meats, sausage and bologna—are now considered a “group 1” carcinogen by the World Health Organization, placing mortadella and its kin in the same category as tobacco, arsenic, asbestos and alcohol. Speaking of which…
Breast Cancer Awareness Tip: Curb Your Alcohol Intake
For some, a chaotic day might “call” for a glass of wine, but you might want to cut yourself off at one.
“Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages (defined as a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce bottle of beer) a day hikes risk by about 20 percent,” Elle reports. The American Cancer Society adds to this by advising, “Even a few drinks a week is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women,” in part because alcohol “can also raise estrogen levels in the body.”
Want to enjoy a mojito here and there? Consider upping your intake of the B vitamin, folate.
“This risk (of breast cancer) may be especially high in women who do not get enough folate in their diet or through supplements,” the American Cancer Society says. Asparagus, broccoli, avocado, dark leafy greens are all an excellent source of this nutrient. Or, order a virgin Salty Dog next time you’re out: Grapefruit (and its juice) are high in folate, while iodine (found in salt) has been associated with a smaller risk in developing breast tumors.
Breast Cancer Awareness Tip: Load Up on Fiber
Eyeing that carton of oatmeal while in line for your latte? Go right ahead. More fiber—both soluble and insoluble—may prevent breast cancer.
“Evidence from several studies suggests that women who consumed 30 grams of fiber per day had had a 32 percent risk reduction of breast cancer,” Rachel Beller, MS, RD, and Founder of Beller Nutritional Institute told Reader’s Digest. “Compare that to the women who were eating less than 25 grams a day who only showed a 2 percent risk reduction, and you have a clear case for eating more than 30 grams of fiber a day.”
And don’t think fiber is limited to those oats you’re ogling or the bran your mother heaped on your plate: Pears, lentils, oranges, almonds, peas, raisins, apples and carrots are all fiber-rich.
Breast Cancer Awareness Tip: Opt Out of the Night Shift (or At Least the All-Nighter)
Sleep isn’t just for beauty. Studies confirm that adequate, restful sleep is a leading defense against illness—and that night shifts, whether in a factory, on a plane or at a club, puts you at an increased risk of breast cancer. In fact, “research published in the May 2012 issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that women in the Danish military who worked the night shift were as much as 40 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who didn’t burn the midnight oil,” The Guardian says. Well-rested, you’ll have the courage to check your breasts—and the energy to make these oh-so-vital lifestyle changes.