This post was written by Megan Goetz, NP-C, Oncology, Breast Care Team, Parkview Packnett Family Cancer Institute.
Breast cancer is a formidable adversary that affects millions of women (and men) worldwide. While no one can entirely eliminate the risk of developing breast cancer, there are proactive steps you can take to significantly reduce your chances. Knowledge and self-awareness are key contributors to a healthier and happier life.
In this blog, we offer 11 things you can do, starting right now, to increase your breast cancer prevention. We explore the science behind the recommendations and uncover the significant role your lifestyle plays in determining your risk. Let’s get started!
1. Maintain a healthy weight
According to the American Cancer Society, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce postmenopausal breast cancer risk by up to 30%.
Being an unhealthy weight increases the levels of estrogen in your body, which can fuel the growth of breast cancer cells. Although you may have heard otherwise, there is no such thing as a “cancer diet,” and not every individual is a candidate for pharmacological interventions such as Ozempic®. Instead, your diet should consist mostly of whole foods and plant protein, which are beneficial to maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being. This does not mean you should never eat meat or enjoy your favorite snack—just do so in moderation.
2. Eat more vegetables
Vegetables, especially cruciferous ones like broccoli and kale, contain compounds that have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Even if you are not a fan of these vegetables, do your best to get your nutrients through your daily diet. If this is a struggle for you, supplements may be an option.
3. Limit alcohol consumption
Even moderate alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk. For every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day (equivalent to a small glass of wine), the risk of breast cancer rises by 7%, according to a meta-analysis in the British Journal of Cancer.
If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. For women, this means no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
4. Quit smoking
Smoking is linked to a higher incidence of aggressive forms of breast cancer. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that women who smoked had a 24% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Quitting smoking not only reduces your breast cancer risk but also improves your overall health and well-being. Smoking cessation education is offered at Parkview. Please contact your healthcare provider for additional questions and referrals.
5. Exercise regularly
Exercise helps regulate hormones and boosts the immune system, making it harder for cancer cells to develop. Movement is also beneficial to your mental well-being. This does not mean you need to run a marathon! Start slowly and find something you enjoy. Exercise is very individualized and should be something you take pleasure in, not a chore.
6. Breastfeed if you are able
Breastfeeding can suppress ovulation and reduce estrogen exposure, which may contribute to the reduced risk. However, we understand this is not an option for everyone. If you are struggling with your breastfeeding journey, please contact your OB/GYN for additional resources.
7. Evaluate hormone use
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can increase breast cancer risk. A study published in the Lancet found that HRT users had a 1.6 times higher risk of developing breast cancer.
If you are considering HRT for menopausal or urinary symptoms, discuss the potential risks and benefits with your healthcare provider. This is a very individualized choice, and an informed decision is always the best. Remember, all HRT is not harmful and in fact can cause significant relief during menopause.
8. Know your family history
Having a first-degree relative with breast cancer can increase your risk of developing it too. According to the American Cancer Society, about 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary.
Understanding your family history can help you and your healthcare provider assess your risk and create a tailored screening plan. The Packnett Family Cancer Institute’s High Risk Program can help you navigate these concerns and discuss genetic testing.
9. If high risk, consider your options
High-risk individuals, such as those with BRCA mutations, have significantly elevated breast cancer risk. For BRCA1 mutation carriers, the lifetime risk can be as high as 80%, as reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Genetic counseling and testing can provide valuable information about your risk, allowing you to explore preventive measures like mastectomy or increased surveillance.
10. Reduce stress
Chronic stress can negatively impact your immune system and promote inflammation, potentially increasing the risk of cancer development and progression. Studies, such as one published in Psychosomatic Medicine, have highlighted the link between stress reduction and improved health outcomes.
Practice relaxation techniques, engage in hobbies, spend time with loved ones and consider therapies like mindfulness, meditation or yoga to manage stress effectively. In some cases, simply finding a quiet room to rest is your best option. Learn what works for you and do it regularly.
11. Get your mammograms
Mammograms can detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, often before you or your provider can feel a lump. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment and survival. It’s recommended that women with an average risk of breast cancer start getting annual mammograms at age 40.
Empowerment lies in knowledge and action. Regular screenings, healthy lifestyle choices and understanding your risk factors are crucial steps toward reducing your risk of breast cancer. Remember, your health is in your hands, and we are here to help. Each positive choice you make brings you one step closer to a healthier, cancer-resistant future.