In our previous posts we have written about the role of postmenopausal hormones as a cause of breast cancer, the value of weight loss and increasing physical activity for prevention and improved quality of life. Here we list 8 major opportunities to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer. When in life they apply can vary. Paying attention to weight and physical activity, and also alcohol across all ages will pay off.
1. Keep weight in check
Women who maintain a healthy weight throughout adulthood have a lower risk of breast cancer, especially if they are post-menopausal. One reason is that fat tissue affects different hormone levels in the body. Too much fat tissue can lead to higher hormone levels and increase the risk of cancer. Weight loss after menopause lowers risk of breast cancer. It’s never too late to benefit from losing weight.
2. Be physically active
People who are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer, possibly because physical activity affects hormone levels and other growth factors in the body. Being physically active is also one of the best ways to help maintain a healthy weight. In addition, physically active people also have a lower risk of colon cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
3. Avoid too much alcohol
Women who have less than one drink a day have a lower risk of breast cancer. (One drink is a can of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of hard liquor.) Alcohol may raise the level of some hormones in the body. High levels of certain hormones after menopause may cause cells in the breast to become cancerous.
4. Take a daily multivitamin with folate
In general, there are no strong links between specific vitamins and the risk of breast cancer. However, in women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, the vitamin folate (found in most multivitamins and B-complex vitamins) seems to protect against the increased risk associated with drinking alcohol.
5. Breastfeed, if possible
Women who breast feed for a total of one year or more have a lower risk of breast cancer. This is because breast feeding can cause changes in hormones and in breast tissue that help protect the cells from becoming cancerous. Women who regularly breast feed also have a lower risk of ovarian cancer.
6. Avoid birth control pills, particularly after age 35
Women currently on birth control pills have a higher risk of breast cancer. Yet, birth control pills can have positive and negative effects on a woman’s health. If taken for at least 5 years, birth control pills can lower a woman’s risk of colon cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer. But while she’s taking them, they raise her risk of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke.
7. Avoid postmenopausal hormones
Post-menopausal hormones are medications that help ease the symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Use over 1- 2 years, though, can increase the risk of breast cancer and other serious conditions, like heart disease.
8. If at increased risk after menopause, consider a prescription anti-estrogen, like tamoxifen or raloxifene
Tamoxifen and raloxifene are medications prescribed for women at high risk of breast cancer. They block the effects of the hormone estrogen in breast tissue and can substantially reduce the risk of breast cancer. However, these medications also have serious side effects. They are not right for everyone and can only be prescribed by a doctor. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about your risk and whether these drugs may be right for you.
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