Most of us dread the word “Breast Cancer” and quite understandably so. With sharp rise in breast cancer rates over the last couple of decades, ‘Breast cancer’ is indeed the most feared cancer in women. The anxiety is even greater when there is an associated risk factor like family history of cancer. However, it is important to understand that 90% of breast cancer cases are triggered by environmental and dietary factors, which means a lot depends not just on our genes but on the choices we make. We can reduce the risk of breast cancer to a large extent by making the right choices and leading a healthy lifestyle. If you’re keen on working towards prevention, here are 5 ways to reduce breast cancer risk.
1. Watch your weight and exercise regularly:
Exercise is the most cost-effective medicine ever invented. Research studies have shown that walking for 30 minutes daily reduces the risk of breast cancer by 20-30%. But how does physical activity reduce cancer risk? It has been proven that women who exercise regularly have lower levels of circulating oestrogens, a set of naturally occurring female reproductive hormones. Oestrogens are absolutely important for maintaining a healthy reproductive system and bone density in women. However, elevated levels of certain types of oestrogens can stimulate breast cell division, turning normal breast tissue into a cancerous growth.
Obesity also increases breast cancer risk. Body fat encourages the production of carcinogenic oestrogens, hence more the body fat, greater the risk! Exercising is a great way of reducing fat deposition in tissues and keeping weight under control. Being physically active also improvises your immune system, which defends your body by fighting against cancerous cells.
2. Take Anti-cancer foods and Vitamins:
Eat lots of fruits and veggies! They are rich in fibre and low in fat, both of which contribute towards maintaining a healthy body weight and lowering carcinogenic oestrogen levels in your body.
Many fruits and vegetables also have cancer-fighting compounds and antioxidants that can protect your tissues. Broccoli, which has sulphoraphane, a natural compound has profound anti-breast cancer properties. Similarly, curcumin, found naturally in turmeric, has proven anti-cancerous properties. Omega 3 rich oily fishes, extra-virgin olive oil, flax seeds, sesame seeds, soy, wholegrains and pulses can be invaluable in combating breast cancer.
Vitamin D is known to reduce breast cancer risk by up to 40%. Get exposed to the morning sun every day to maintain sufficient blood vitamin D levels. Foods rich in Vitamin C, A and B6 are other top picks for an anti-cancer meal plan.
3. Breast-feed your babies:
We all know that breast milk is the best milk for babies but if you aren’t aware, breastfeeding is great for moms too! It is a proven fact that young mothers who breast-fed their babies had reduced risk of breast cancer in their later years. The longer you breastfeed, lower your chances of developing breast cancer. So chuck the formula and breastfeed your baby as much as you can. It’s also one of the best ways to enhance the maternal bond with your child.
4. Beware of carcinogens in your food and drink:
Beware! Xenoestrogens like BPA in plastics, parabens in personal-care products etc are chemicals which mimic oestrogens. Minimize their usage as they can have a carcinogenic effect.
Cut down the consumption of deep fried foods and char-grilled meats. Some studies have revealed that such type of cooking methods may trigger the formation of carcinogens in food.
Smoked or Cured meats like salami and sausages use preservatives like nitrites which may combine with naturally present amines in the meat to form carcinogenic compounds.
Smoking and alcohol intake raises cancer risk by 15-20%. Alcohol not only stimulates oestrogen levels in blood but also damages DNA in cells. Several studies have revealed that women who started smoking during their adolescence have increased risk of developing breast cancer. It would make a wise decision to stay away from cigarettes and alcohol if you have a family history of breast cancer.
5. Avoid using oral-contraceptive pills and hormone therapies:
Data analysis by researchers has shown that women who used oral contraceptives had slight increase in breast cancer risk when compared to those who never used birth-control pills. If you need to choose a long term contraceptive option, talk to your gynaecologist about the potential cancer risk from the prescribed OCP and also explore other safer options for long term contraception.
Long term treatments with hormones like oestrogen, progesterone or their combination, especially prescribed for menopausal symptoms or hormone replacement treatments after removal of ovaries and uterus may trigger the development of breast cancer. Go for hormonal therapies only if benefits from the treatment outweigh its ill-effects.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It all comes down to being aware and making wise choices. By taking right decisions and weeding out hazardous environmental factors you can maximize your potential to defend against the much feared breast cancer.