Breast cancer is one of the most common and complex diseases affecting American women. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated there would be 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women in the US in 2019 and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that about 1 in 8 women born today in the U.S. is likely to develop breast cancer at some point of time. Currently, the average risk of a woman in the U.S. developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12%. Age, family history, genetics, and gender are the common risk factors for cancer and these are not within a person’s control. However, research shows that lifestyle changes can decrease the risk of breast cancer, even in women at high risk.
Adopting the following lifestyle changes can optimize your health and lower your risk of breast cancer:
- Avoid the use of plastic containers and aluminum cans: Get rid of plastic containers and aluminum cans (BPA lining, phthalates, etc) from your life as much as possible. Never drink water from plastic bottles, especially if they’ve been sitting in the heat. This is because all plastics may leach chemicals if they’re scratched or heated, says a research. BPA, which is added to plastic to make it durable was discovered to be a powerful xenoestrogen, a synthetic chemical that mimics the natural estrogen in our bodies. With constant use of plastics, these xenoestrogens are stored in our fatty tissue (especially the breast) and can lead to cancer. Use glass jars and bottles.
- Stop using products with synthetic chemicals and unknown elements: Get rid of all face, body, beauty, or fragrance products that contain synthetic chemicals and unknown elements. Parabens are a common and harmful ingredient found in beauty products such as makeup, moisturizer, shaving cream, shampoo, and spray-tan products. The FDA currently acknowledges several studies linking parabens, which mimic estrogen, to breast cancer, skin cancer, and decreased sperm count (www.byrdie.com/). As your skin absorbs whatever you apply on it, use natural and plant-based products whenever possible.
- Keep a watch on your dietary choices: Research suggests that dietary factors could be responsible for 30–40%of all cancers. Eating a healthy diet can make a difference to your risk of developing breast cancer and enhance your overall well-being. Although no specific food can cause or prevent breast cancer, including certain items in your diet may help reduce your overall breast cancer risk. Mayo Clinic notes that “women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts might have a reduced risk of breast cancer. This is mainly because the Mediterranean diet focuses mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet automatically choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, over butter and eat fish over red meat”.
- Substitute chemical cleaning products with natural alternatives: To avoid contact with harmful chemicals present in cleaning products, use natural alternatives such as baking soda, vinegar, citrus oil, lemon or sage infused vinegar, and so on.
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise is an important breast-healthy habit. A fredhutch.org report points out that research suggests that increased physical activity, even when begun later in life, reduces overall breast-cancer risk by about 10 percent to 30 percent. The ACS recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week (or a combination of both).
- Limit exposure to light, especially at night: Results of some studies imply that women who work at night (like doctors, factory workers, nurses, and police officers) have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who work during the day. Similarly, studies suggest that women who live in areas with high levels of external light at night (street lights) have a higher risk of breast cancer. It is believed that increase in risk is linked to melatonin levels, which tend to stay low in women who work at night or in those who are exposed to external light at night. Installing blackout shades on bedroom windows can help control excess light exposure at night. Use low-wattage or red bulbs in nightlights and install a low-wattage or red-bulb nightlight in your bathroom(s).
- Breastfeed your baby for as long as possible: Plan to have your first child before your thirties and breastfeed your baby for as long as you can. Studies report that women who breastfeed their babies for six months or longer have a lower risk of breast cancer.
- Avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy: Studies suggest that postmenopausal women who had hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be more likely to develop or face increased risk of breast cancer. HRT was used in the past to help control night sweats, hot flashes, and other symptoms of menopause. On a safer side, it is best to use it at the lowest dose that works for you and for as short a time as possible. Talk with your physician for better options to manage postmenopausal symptoms.
Educating yourself about breast cancer and making positive changes in your lifestyle hold the key to staying healthy and minimizing your risks.