How lifestyle choices can help shape your risk of breast cancer. It’s never too early to be proactive.
Breast cancer ranks as the top health concern for women young and old. In Canada, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Despite this staggering statistic, we have made little progress in advancing our understanding of how to treat never mind prevent breast cancer.
The lack of progress is in part due to our underestimating the important role that lifestyle plays in shaping a woman’s risk. Eight of every ten women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. Women living in the US have a greater risk of dying from breast cancer than do women living in Thailand. These facts underscore the important role lifestyle plays in shaping our risk.
It is never too early to adopt a breast healthy lifestyle. What we choose to eat, drink, and apply to our skin are choices we make everyday. The following guide will help you to take proactive measures to reduce your risk through the decades:
In your Twenties
It’s easier to never start than to stop smoking. Most smokers pick up the habit before their 21st birthday. Starting early and smoking longer are linked with an increased risk of breast cancer. Instead, young women can adopt breast healthy diets adding cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli, bok choy and kale) that enhance estrogen metabolism and reduce health problems caused by hormone imbalance. When we are young it is crucial to limit exposure to environmental hazards such as dioxins in pesticides and mercury in contaminated fish as maturing breast tissue is more vulnerable. We can do this by selecting organic produce (check out the dirty dozen list for the most heavily sprayed crops) and limiting fish intake to three servings a week. While a good diet should be the foundation of health, it may not be enough. From birth, it is recommended that we take the sunshine vitamin (D3) as a supplement as inadequate stores are linked with risk of breast cancer later on.
In your Thirties
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are protective to the breast. Becoming pregnant, especially having a baby before the age of 30 years, and breastfeeding are associated with a lower risk of acquiring breast cancer later in life. Skin and hair care products begin to be used and we must do so wisely. Carefully check labels and avoid those products that contain harmful ingredients such as parabens, hormone disruptors that may be linked to breast cancer.
In your Forties
Body shape changes commonly start at midlife. Being overweight is one of the most important predictors of breast cancer. The diagnosis of breast cancer often follows a stressful life event. In our forties, we face the challenges of aging and ailing parents, children, career and perhaps relationship stress. To prevent the deleterious effects stress can have on our body, we can learn to adopt stress reduction techniques such as meditation.
In your Fifties
The decision of whether or not to start hormone therapy around the time of menopause is an important one that needs to be made in discussion with a qualified medical doctor. There are many factors to consider. Bioidentical estrogen and progesterone when given near the time of menopause have been shown to be safe to the breast. By the age of fifty, it is recommended that women begin to participate in breast cancer screening . While screening is not the same as prevention, it is a powerful tool that has been shown to save lives.
Breast cancer is not one disease but a complicated process that begins with the transformation of healthy breast cells to cancer cells. Our lifestyle, diet and environment may influence this change.