Ways to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know this year approximately 1,090 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Hawaii and more than 140 in the state will die from the disease? That means approximately 1 out of 8 women you know will have to deal with breast cancer. That’s a wife, mom, sister, aunty or grandma that has to undergo treatment. 

Here’s where to start 

Your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your breast cancer risk. After menopause, your ovaries are no longer your main source of estrogen so your stored fat supplies you with estrogen. Keeping a normal body weight can help you lower your breast cancer risk as well as your overall risk for other cancers.

Get more active. Adding just a little bit more movement to your day can help lower your risk of the disease. The Women’s Health Initiative showed that just 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2 1/2 hours of brisk walking every week can reduce breast cancer risk by 18 percent.

An American Cancer Society study found that sitting too much will increase the overall cancer risk in women. Take a break and stand or walk every hour if you have a job that requires you to sit all day. You could request for your cubicle to accommodate a standing desk setup. If your employer has regular, short meetings ask if they could be standing meetings. 

Drinking alcohol. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 100 studies link an increased risk of breast cancer to increased alcohol intake. 

Birth control pills or injections. Those who take birth control pills are at a slightly increased risk for breast cancer. But if you stopped using these pills over 10 years ago your risk returns to normal.  

Post–menopausal hormone therapy. Evidence shows combined hormonal therapy (estrogen and progesterone) seems to increase breast cancer risk, while estrogen therapy alone doesn’t. However, both carry other risks. You should seek a doctor’s advice on whether the risks are worth the benefits for a short time in order to curb menopausal symptoms.

The take-away: If you’re looking for something you can focus on right away, try diet and exercise. Eating right and exercising regularly make a big difference when it comes to any type of cancer risk, and can also help you improve your overall health.

Actively help yourself and other women you love

The easiest way to avoid the complications of breast cancer is to detect and stop the disease in its earliest stages. Talk to your doctor if you are due for a mammogram. Here’s some great news: The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the outcome. 

Survival rates after five years is 72 percent in stage III patients and only 22 percent in stage IV patients, where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, like the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. A drastic difference in the survival rate hopefully encourages more women to find and treat breast cancer at the earliest stage possible.

If you’re 40 or older

If you are a woman 40 or older, why not talk to your doctor about scheduling your mammogram? Mammograms area great tool to catch breast cancer early, at its most treatable stage. Because the dose of radiation is very low from mammography, the risk outweighs the benefits of catching a disease right away before it spreads. 

For younger women

Recommendations for breast cancer detection and prevention vary depending on age and risk factors, but it's important for all women to be familiar with, and listen to their bodies. Women ages 15 to 34 and 35 to 54 die more frequently from breast cancer than any other cancer. Be sure to report to your doctor any unusual changes in your breasts (such as a lump, swelling, pain, a change in shape, dimpling, fluid coming from the nipple, or a red scaly patch of skin). Keep in mind that there are other breast disorders that are more common than cancer and it’s best to have any changes evaluated by your doctor.

Certain women are at higher risk than others based on family or personal history of breast cancer. Be sure to check with your doctor and inquire if you may need additional testing or if you need to see a specialist.

Click here for more information from the American Cancer Society.