There’s no doubt about it — breast cancer is scary, especially because the causes of breast cancer are largely unknown, making it difficult to pinpoint preventative behaviors for it. So what are some behaviors that we know do matter when it comes to preventing breast cancer? What can you be doing now to decrease your likelihood of breast cancer later in life? Dr. Elizabeth Neuger, a breast cancer specialist and general surgeon at the Everett Clinic, and Nicola Pytell, a breast cancer survivor, provide us with a list of 6 things you can do right now to lower your risk. Share this with your mother, sisters, friends, and the other women you care about!
“Eating healthy to keep your weight in a normal range is one of the best ways for women to decrease their risk of breast cancer,” says Dr. Neuger. Studies have shown that women with a higher body mass index (BMI) are more likely to develop breast cancer. In addition to being produced in your ovaries, estrogen is also produced in fat tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Estrogen-sensitive tissues are therefore exposed to more estrogen stimulation in heavy women, leading to a more rapid growth of estrogen-responsive breast tumors.”
Your BMI is based on your height and weight — not whether or not you’re a size zero. You can easily measure your BMI with online calculator like the one provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. The number will let you know if you’re underweight, a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. If your BMI is higher than 25, you could be at a higher risk for breast cancer and should change your lifestyle habits by making sure to eat healthy foods and healthy fats.
Work it Out
Dr. Neuger also recommends exercising at least 3- 4 times a week for 30 minutes each time you work out. Go for moderate aerobic activity, like the elliptical machine or brisk walking. The point is to have a consistent workout — not to be sweating bullets! A study done by CBS of 15,000 women showed that women who get more than six hours of exercise a week, and have no family history of breast cancer, are 23 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who don't exercise at all. Another study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that women who exercised regularly had a 22% decreased risk of breast cancer.
Drink in Moderation
“Drinking alcohol in moderationor not at all can reduce one’s risk of breast cancer,” says Neuger, although she acknowledges that this can be difficult for college students.
Simply remembering to drink less when you’re out on the town could have positive effects on your overall health and, in turn, on reducing your risk of breast cancer later in life. The Harvard Nurses' Health study has shown consuming more than one alcoholic beverage a day can increase breast cancer risk by as much as 20-25 percent. Although the direct link to alcohol and breast cancer is still unclear, numerous studies continue to find a correlation between the two.