A woman’s risk of dying of breast cancer has dropped 39 percent over the past 30 years due to increased awareness, earlier detection through screening, improved diagnostic modalities, a better understanding of the genetic basis of disease, and advances in treatment. And yet, despite substantial progress, breast cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, second only to lung cancer. There are more than 3.1 million people with a history of breast cancer in the United States, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, and 40,920 women will die of the disease.
There are things all of us—male, female, old or young—can do to help ourselves and others prevent and manage breast cancer. And it starts with embracing and promoting a healthy lifestyle. There is so much in life that we have no control over, but we can control our lifestyle choices. Breast cancer prevention begins with healthy lifestyles.
What we know about breast cancer:
- On average, alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women by 7 to 10 percent for each drink of alcohol consumed per day; women who have two to three alcoholic drinks per day have a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to non-drinkers.
- Being overweight increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by about 1.5 times compared to that of lean women. Obesity doubles it.
- Women who get regular physical activity have a 10 to 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who are inactive.
- Smoking may increase breast cancer risk, particularly long-term.
We all want to DO SOMETHING to help. We walk. We donate money. We volunteer. But it is by adopting healthy lifestyle choices that together we will not only succeed in reducing the risk of breast cancer but also that of other cancers. And, for cancer patients, healthy lifestyle choices promote healthy survivorship.
Here are 9 things you can do to manage your breast cancer risk:
- Drink less. Limit alcohol to less than one drink per day.
- Don’t smoke. If you are not a smoker, don’t start. If you are, quit immediately.
- Control your weight. Consider the Mediterranean diet, which focuses mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Use healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil instead of butter. Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. Limit red meat to no more than a few times a month. I have personally been on this diet for over 25 years and feel great. (Note: The Mediterranean diet does not preclude me from eating occasional ice cream or popcorn. It is a lifestyle diet meant for the long-term.)
- Be physically active. You don’t have to run a marathon. Just make a point to get your body moving on a regular basis.
- Reduce stress. I suggest yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises to help you to manage stress.
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution. Living a clean lifestyle includes paying attention to the environment around you.
- Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy. Undergoing combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Breastfeed. Breastfeeding isn’t just good for your baby—it’s good for you, too. Lactation delays a woman’s menstrual cycle, and that delay means that women are exposed less to potential cancer-promoting hormones such as estrogen.
- Check yourself. Be vigilant about breast cancer detection. Do a monthly breast self-exam and get regular mammograms.
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It’s essential to raise awareness and research funds for this disease that touches so many of us. But we should be thinking about a healthy lifestyle every day of the year. It is my mission to help people live and lead in a way that promotes good health, wellness, and sustainable success. That’s why I wrote Beyond the Mat. I invite you to join me in search of this goal. Let’s work together toward a healthier society.