Reducing breast cancer risks at any age
By: Jessica Woodward, M.D.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. While breast cancer affects both men and women, the risk to women is much higher. This risk increases with age; besides being female, age is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk for a woman in her 30’s is about 1 in 234; these numbers increase to 1 in 40 for women in their 50’s.
Research shows that following medical recommendations and having healthy lifestyle habits can improve your odds against breast cancer. It’s best to start young – in your 20’s – and continue these healthy habits throughout your lifetime. But, making healthy lifestyle choices and changes can be a benefit at any age.
Your body and recommended medical procedures
A clinical breast exam, involving a physical examination by a medical professional, should be repeated at least every three years during your 20’s and 30’s. For women in their 40’s and older the American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram.
If breast cancer tends to run in your family you will want to discuss this with your doctor. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer may require more frequent screenings. This may include mammograms and MRIs prior to age 40, depending on the situation.
If you are at high risk for breast cancer, you may want to consider a special test for genetic mutations that are linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. This test can tell you if you have this rare genetic trait, which increases your risk for breast cancer. If this is your situation, you can discuss the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutation test with your health care professional.
Healthy lifestyle habits
Eat a healthy diet. The National Cancer Institute recommends at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Many cancer experts boost this number to 10 servings per day. Limit your consumption of red meat and processed meats. Minimize intake of high calorie and refined foods.
Get moving. Walk, run, do aerobics, bike, swim or do whatever you can to keep your heart rate above its baseline level for at least 20 minutes three to four times per week. Regular, moderate to vigorous exercise can reduce your breast cancer risk.
Reduce stress, and find positive ways to deal with the stress in your life. Exercise might be one way. Relaxation techniques, counseling sessions or even a conversation with a good friend can all help to reduce stress.
If you have a baby, breastfeed him or her for at least six months. A recent study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center showed that breastfeeding for six months or longer reduced the risk of low grade, slow-growing breast cancer by 20 percent.
Drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Research shows that alcohol consumption at any age increases your risk for breast cancer, but this risk grows after menopause. A study by the National Cancer Institute found that postmenopausal women who had one to two alcoholic drinks per day were 32 percent more likely to develop the most common type of breast cancer.
Breast cancer prevention starts with reducing your risk factors by living a healthy lifestyle and following your doctor’s recommendations for medical tests and procedures. It’s never too early – or too late – to get started and make the changes that can make breast cancer less likely for your future.
Dr. Woodward is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.