By KATHY MEGYERI
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. According to the National Cancer Institute, one in eight American females will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are some recommendations from a variety of nationally-recognized experts to help you lower your risk for this disease.
• Schedule a yearly mammogram
to help detect abnormalities early.
Dense breast tissue may increase your
risk of breast cancer and mask cancerous
growths on a mammogram. Your
doctor may supplement your mammogram
with an MRI or ultrasound for a
more accurate reading.
• Perform self-breast exams
monthly so you can readily spot unusual
changes in the breast.
• Get regular check-ups. Better
outcomes of cancer are those that are
caught early. A doctor may see something
you miss and can talk to you about
your risks. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish
ancestry and African American women
(who could be prone to a more aggressive
form of cancer) have a higher risk.
Remember, men, you too can contract
• If you have a family history of
breast or ovarian cancer, ask your doctor
about a genetic test to see if you
may have inherited a genetic mutation.
This can help you and your healthcare
provider create a personalized plan designed
to prevent or detect the disease.
• For some, such as those who carry
the BRCA1 or 2 mutation and have a
strong history of the disease, preventative
surgery may be an option.
• Cut down on alcohol. Fourteen or
more drinks a week make women nearly
35% more likely to develop breast
cancer than those who drink less than
five drinks weekly, according to a study
published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers
and Prevention. One drink a
day is enough to increase the risk.
• Avoid Hormone Replacement
Therapy if you can. HRT with a combination
of estrogen and progesterone increases
breast cancer risk by 75% – even
if used for a short time. Estrogen-only
HRT has been linked to ovarian cancer.
• Limit oral contraceptive use as
it increases one’s exposure to estrogen.
• Try natural remedies for menopause
symptoms like consuming a
plant-based diet, herbal medicines, acupuncture,
drinking more water, quitting
smoking, increasing exercise, and cutting
down on caffeine.
• Exercise several times a week.
Dr. Marc Hulbert, breast cancer specialist
at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation,
says physical activity is the most
important lifestyle factor in reducing
the risk of breast cancer, especially after
menopause. It helps with weight and
reduces metabolic hormones and estrogen
which promote tumor growth. One
should get 150 minutes of moderate intensity
activity per week.
• Quit smoking. Studies show
smoking can increase your risk. Second-hand
smoke also plays a factor. The
effect of smoking may be even stronger
when a woman starts smoking before
her first child.
• Sitting most of the day is as deadly
as cigarette smoking. Women who sit
six or more hours a day are more likely
to develop invasive breast cancer than
women who sit for less than three hours
a day, according to the American Cancer
Society. Spend at least one-half of your
work day on your feet.
• Keep stress to a minimum. Your
immune system needs to be in optimal
condition to seek out and destroy cancer
cells. “Don’t worry about things out
of your control,” says Dr. Amy Lee of
the University of Southern California’s
Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
• Experts recommend a Mediterranean
or plant-based diet. Include broccoli,
turmeric and garlic. Limit refined
sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated
animal fats, toxic chemicals and pesticides.
“Fresh vegetables, whole grains
and lean protein are vital,” says Dr.
Matthew McCurdy, an oncologist at the
Austin Cancer Center.
• Maintain a proper weight. Obesity
causes the body to be more susceptible
to cancer. Body fat produces estrogen
which increases the risk of developing
breast cancer, according to Dr. Dennis
Holmes, a breast surgeon at the John
Wayne Cancer Institute. This is even
more important as we get older because
overweight women after menopause
have a 30-60% higher breast cancer risk
compared to other women. Anything
above 24.9 BMI (body mass index) is
• For younger women: Having children
early in life, having multiple children,
and breastfeeding babies for as
long as possible lowers your lifetime exposure
• Age matters. Our chance of getting
cancer increases the older we get.
There’s not much we can do about this
except to educate ourselves and loved
ones about breast cancer risks and
symptoms, work with our healthcare
providers to improve chances of early
detection, and follow-up with appropriate