Eight years ago, I heard the words no one wants to hear, “I’m sorry to inform you that you have invasive ductal breast carcinoma.” What? Not me, I was only 40 years old. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t have a family history. I lived a fairly healthy lifestyle. I nursed my children. I seldom drank alcohol. I was a nurse and health coach and trying to do everything the magazine’s told me to do to prevent being the 1 in 8.
But…YES…it was me.
I had had my first mammogram in May that year–a birthday gift to myself for turning 40. Six months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts. (This is one time being an over-achiever wasn’t such a good idea.)
As a cancer survivor, I have asked myself the question~was there anything I could have done to prevent breast cancer? Maybe. Maybe NOT. And guess what? We’ll never know.
Many factors over the course of a lifetime can influence your breast cancer risk. You can’t change some factors, such as getting older or your family history, but you can help lower your risk of breast cancer by taking care of your health in the following ways—
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Research has shown that being overweight or obese substantially raises a person’s risk of getting endometrial (uterine), breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Among postmenopausal women, those who are obese have a 20% to 40% increase in risk of developing breast cancer compared with normal-weight women
- Exercise regularly (at least four hours a week).
- Many studies show that physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer than inactive women; in a 2013 meta-analysis of 31 prospective studies, the average breast cancer risk reduction associated with physical activity was 12%
- Lowering the levels of hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, and of certain growth factors that have been associated with cancer development and progression
- Helping to prevent obesity and decreasing the harmful effects of obesity, particularly the development of insulin resistance (failure of the body’s cells to respond to insulin)
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving immune system function
- Research shows that lack of nighttime sleep can be a risk factor.
- Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens) and chemicals that interfere with the normal function of the body.
- Limit exposure to radiation from medical imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans if not medically necessary.
- If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.
- Breastfeed any children you may have, if possible.
If you have a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, you may be at high risk for getting breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about more ways to lower your risk.
Staying healthy throughout your life will lower your risk of developing cancer, and improve your chances of surviving cancer if it occurs.