When American actress, comedian, and producer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she also shared a scary statistic that comes along with the disease: 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
Unlike Louis-Dreyfus, who no doubt had access to a team of excellent physicians and top-notch healthcare, many Americans are not so lucky. With access to affordable healthcare more limited than ever before, a cancer diagnosis can be a terrifying prospect for your psyche, your family, and your wallet. While you may not be able to avoid breast cancer altogether, there are preventative measures you can take to keep breast cancer at bay. Learning how to prevent breast cancer may end up saving your life and your bank account.
Breast Cancer Awareness
The first step on the road to breast cancer prevention is breast cancer awareness. Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout October serves to educate women about the dangers of breast cancer and encourages them to get regular breast cancer screenings for early detection.
Regular breast cancer screenings and mammograms are among the top ways to prevent breast cancer, with studies showing that they can reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer by up to 20 percent. The American Cancer Society attributes this to having a wider variety of treatment options with early detection, including “less-extensive surgery (e.g., breast-conserving surgery like lumpectomy versus mastectomy) and the use of chemotherapy with fewer serious side effects, or even, in some cases, the option to forgo chemotherapy.”
The American Cancer Society also strongly recommends that “women with an average risk of breast cancer should undergo regular screening mammography starting at age 45 years” and that “women who are age 55 and older should transition to biennial screening or have the opportunity to continue screening annually,” depending on their health.
Breast Cancer Prevention
In addition to regular breast cancer screenings, there are everyday changes you can incorporate into your life for breast cancer prevention:
Smoking has been linked to a variety of ailments that prevent healthy aging, such as lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, but it also contributes to your risk of breast cancer. Making the decision to quit smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, and one of the best ways to prevent breast cancer.
The American Association for Cancer Research published the results from a decades-long study out of Norway and Sweden, which concluded that “women who start smoking as teenagers and continue to smoke for at least 20 years may increase their breast cancer risk.” Additional research found that as many as 20,000 women continue to smoke while receiving cancer treatment. The authors suggest that not only can smoking cessation prevent patients from going on to develop lung cancer, but it can also help to make cancer treatments more effective and lower the risk of mortality.
Obesity can derail healthy aging in many ways—whether by increasing your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease or even breast cancer. High BMIs have been associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer, especially for women who carry most of their weight around their waist. The fat that stays around the abdomen has been linked to the body’s stress mechanisms and lipotoxicity, which Harvard Health describes as fat cells that “release their metabolic products directly into the portal circulation, which carries blood straight to the liver.” This metabolically active fat includes various growth factors, like estrogen, that contribute to breast cancer.
Avoiding weight gain is a key to healthy aging, as a sedentary lifestyle can take its toll on the aging body, specifically in women. One of the best methods of breast cancer prevention is to commit to a regular exercise routine and watch what you eat.
Believe it or not, there is actually a breast cancer diet that survivors are encouraged to follow and that same diet can help prevent breast cancer from popping up in the first place. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a healthy breast cancer diet includes eating more produce and less processed foods. They recommend over 2.5 cups of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, 100% whole grains, limiting red meat or processed meat (such as deli meats or sausages), and limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats.
If you think that the breast cancer diet looks similar to a heart-healthy diet, you are not wrong. Adding more fiber-rich foods to your diet, steering clear of low sodium and added sugars, and limiting your red meat or saturated fat intake are not only great for breast cancer prevention, but also for promoting overall healthy aging
Curb Alcohol Intake
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, there is evidence that alcohol functions as a human carcinogen. They also cite more than 100 studies that have examined a potential link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption, and “have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer associated with increasing alcohol intake.”
Women who have more than 3 drinks per day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to non-drinkers. Be warned, however, that “the risk of breast cancer was higher across all levels of alcohol intake: for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day (slightly less than one drink), researchers observed a small (7 percent) increase in the risk of breast cancer.” So if you are looking for ways to prevent breast cancer, cutting down on your alcohol consumption is a step in the right direction.
Healthy Aging Takes Effort
Breast cancer prevention might seem like a challenge, but making these small lifestyle changes can yield big, healthy results in the end. Medical Guardian aims to support older adults at various stages in their lives in order to help them be healthier and happier. Whether that’s through our diverse medical alert device options or educational articles and support, our goal is to encourage healthy aging every step of the way.