Steps to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

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Enough with the theories about breast cancer. We’ve heard so many things through the years: Women deficient in vitamin D might have a higher risk of breast cancer. Taller women might be more vulnerable. Or maybe it’s women who work the night shift.

And then again, maybe not.

Darren Chapman, MD, a surgeon with Baptist Health Medical Group, is hesitant to blame the growing incidence of breast cancer on lifestyle issues, except in one area: weight.

“Women who are obese have a higher risk of breast cancer. That I’ll agree with,” he says. “On other lifestyle issues, I think people can argue back and forth.”

Women hearing the oft-quoted statistic that 1 in 8 will get breast cancer in her lifetime could easily be discouraged by studies that implicate everything from nutrition to the age at which they had their first menstrual period.

Although many risk factors are out of a woman’s control (simply being a woman raises the risk 100 times more than for a man), women can take control of their health, Dr. Chapman says.

That starts with annual mammograms. “You hear all kinds of things now about when to get mammograms and when not to. And it’s pretty complicated,” he says. The American Cancer Society recommends women 40 to 44 should have the choice to start if they wish to do so. Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.

Women older than 55 could switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue with yearly screening.

Dr. Chapman also encourages breast self-exams, especially for younger women who do not receive mammograms, to check for changes such as lumps, pain, discharge and puckering. And women should see a doctor annually for a checkup that includes a breast exam.

Beyond that, women can ensure overall good health in ways that may (or may not) help cut cancer risks. “In general, if you live healthy, you eat healthy, you exercise, you watch your weight and you don’t smoke — all those things are positive,” Dr. Chapman says.

4 Tips to Maintain Overall Health:

Get a dog. A furry friend might be just the answer to break one seriously bad habit: smoking, which can cause everything from respiratory issues to cancer.

“What I tell my patients — my partners laugh at me — is get a dog. Every time you think you need a smoke, go take your dog for a walk. That does a lot of things. It gets you moving, and it keeps you from having a cigarette,” he says.

As a bonus, studies show that pet owners have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. And people who’ve had heart attacks recover better when they have a pet.

Take up yoga or another after-dinner activity. A food-free hobby might help you quit nighttime snacking, which might, in turn, help trim pounds. You can stretch in the living room to relax or walk around the block.

“At night after supper, instead of sitting on the couch watching whatever on TV and snacking, do something else,” Dr. Chapman says.

Blend up a tasty drink. Good nutrition includes salads, fresh fruits, and vegetables — all those foodstuffs people are apt to ignore. A smoothie made from whole fruit can deliver a tasty infusion of essential vitamins in a refreshing, icy drink that can seem a treat rather than a punishment. Just make them yourself, without the added sugar of fast-food smoothies.

Stick to no more than one drink. Drinking alcohol moderately — or not at all — is a good way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and cancer. Studies have found that breast cancer risk rises with alcohol consumption.

On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. The earlier breast cancer is detected; the easier it is to treat. A mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. Schedule yours today! It could save your life. Learn more about our services and find a provider at Baptist Health Women’s Care.

Assess your health and breast cancer risk with a free online assessment at FindYourHealth.com