October is breast cancer awareness month! My mother, aunt and grandmother all had breast cancer, so reducing MY breast cancer risk is of pretty high interest to me.
Lots of women don’t think about their breast cancer risk except when they get their yearly mammogram. Early detection makes treatment easier and more successful, so it’s definitely important, but getting your mammogram will not reduce your risk of getting breast cancer.
So what WILL reduce a woman’s breast cancer risk?
Even 30 minutes of walking will reduce your risk. In fact, 30 minutes of brisk walking 4 days per week reduced breast cancer risk by 30-50%. That’s a huge reduction from just a little effort!
Maintain your weight
Obesity significantly increases a woman’s risk of all cancers including breast cancer. There is an enzyme called aromatase that is present in fat cells. It changes male hormones into female hormones. Even after menopause women’s adrenal glands still make male hormones. The more fat cells you have, the more aromatase and the more estrogens.
Breast cancer cells are often responsive to estrogens, and so obesity increases the stimulation and growth of these estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight decreases breast cancer risk.
Increasing alcohol intake raises the risk of breast cancer. Even 3-4 glasses of wine per week has been shown to raise the risk. The more you drink the higher the risk, but there is no evidence of a “safe” level of alcohol intake.
The most important risk factors for breast cancer are, of course, age and gender. Women get breast cancer 100 times more often than men, and the risk goes up as we get older. There are inherited genetic risk factors as well, and there are links to how early menstrual periods started, how many children you’ve had and how late menopause occurred. Breastfeeding also decreases the risk. Some of these, like age, are things we can’t control.
But there ARE risks that we can control! Don’t smoke or drink, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight and you will be doing a lot to control your breast cancer risk.