Many women dread getting breast cancer. Having such a life-threatening disease is bad enough, what makes it worse is how it drastically reduces the quality of life. Cancer corrupts the healthy cells in your body and literally rots you from the inside out. Breast cancer can mean expensive treatments which can drain your finances almost completely, which affects several other areas of life. If the breast has to be removed, then body image issues, anger, depression and profound frustration follow. All these scenarios are just a fraction of the havoc that breast cancer can cause. That’s why it is so much more prudent to prevent the disease from developing in the first place.
Can breast cancer be prevented?
Prevent breast cancer
Honestly, no one knows.
Since the cause of breast cancer is unknown, it is impossible to say whether or not you can definitively prevent breast cancer. However, we do know some of the risk factors associated with the disease. So your best bet in avoiding breast cancer is to go through the list of risk factors, identify the ones that are within your control and then go about actively trying to change those till the odds are in your favor.
Breast cancer prevention
Let’s take a look at which factors increase your risk of breast cancer and what you can do to reduce your risk of developing the disease. Also read: What causes breast cancer
Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
Heavy drinkers are more prone to breast cancer than those who drink less. Teetotalers reduce their risk even more. If the thought of quitting alcohol altogether is too intimidating for you, at least try to reduce the amount you drink to no more than one unit a day.
Smokers are at greater risk of breast cancer than non-smokers. Are you really surprised? Smoking is linked to so many diseases that it’s not a dramatic revelation that it increases cancer risk too. You are literally allowing toxic smoke into your organs every time you take a puff or even when you are around other people who smoke. Reducing how much you smoke will not make that much of a difference. Go cold turkey and give up the nasty habit as soon as possible. Breast cancer will not be the only disease you’ll be keeping at bay once you quit.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Research has shown that those who are overweight and obese have a higher chance of developing breast cancer, especially if they put on the weight after menopause. So it is in your best interests to lose weight if you are a few pounds over and to maintain a healthy weight if you are already at it. Take care to stay at your ideal weight throughout your life, not just when you actually stack on the pounds. This will allow you to develop healthy habits which in turn will contribute in their own way to preventing breast cancer.
Exercise as often and as vigorously as possible for you. This has nothing to do with losing weight, although it does help on that front too. Even skinny people need to get off their behinds and indulge in more physical activity if they hope to reduce their risk of breast cancer. Just 30 minutes a day more than four times a week is the minimum you should be putting in if you hope to prevent breast cancer and a number of other diseases.
Stay Away from Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
The symptoms of menopause can be highly uncomfortable. Hormone replacement therapy or HRT as it is more commonly known is generally prescribed to reduce the intensity of these symptoms. While the HRT does indeed help, some types of it can have far-reaching repercussions. A multitude of clinical studies suggest that there is a link between the use of combined HRT (both estrogen and progestin or estrogen and testosterone are prescribed) and a higher risk of breast cancer. There is not enough data right now to say for sure whether estrogen-only HRT has the same effect. The longer you use HRT, the more your chances increase. However, they have still not determined what exactly would be considered ‘long-term use’ and at what point the risk is less or more.
So at this time, it is recommended that HRT be prescribed only for a short period of time while efforts are made side by side to incorporate lifestyle changes that will void the need for the HRT. Post-menopausal women, who are anyway at higher risk for breast cancer, should avoid HRT altogether.
Breastfeed Your Baby
Studies show that breastfeeding your baby offers you protection from breast cancer. In fact, the more you breastfeed the more you reduce your risk. Scientists are still not sure why this is so. They think that it may have something to do with the fact that when you breastfeed, you don’t ovulate, which means that the levels of estrogen in your body are stable for a long time. As we have seen, hormones may play a role in raising your risk of breast cancer so it stands to reason that any activity which biologically affects hormonal production will have some effect on the potential development of breast cancer. Try to prolong breastfeeding as much as possible. Instead of moving your baby to only-formula after six months you can opt to breastfeed your baby side by side.
Plan Children Early
Women who have children earlier in life, i.e., before the age of 25, are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer. So if possible, try to have kids early on instead of postponing it for too long. The theory for why this might work is that the hormones released during pregnancy offer some kind of protection, plus the no-period stage when you are breastfeeding offers additional protection.
Avoid Exposure to Toxins, Radiation and Pollution
There is toxic rubbish everywhere nowadays from the food you eat (since many are genetically modified or processed with chemicals) to the toys your kids play with. Several items that we use everyday are also filled with toxic junk. House-cleaning and beauty products in particular have a number of horrendous chemical ingredients that we would not go near in their raw form. It is precisely all this rubbish that we interact with everyday that is linked to a higher incidence of disease in general. But how does one steer clear of toxins when they are everywhere? You can’t, not completely anyway. However, you owe it to your health to take a closer look at your everyday life and see where you are taking in those toxins in the first place.
For example, look at the types of food you are eating, where it’s coming from, how much and what kind of pesticide/chemicals were used to make it grow. In case of processed foods, which should really be avoided altogether, research those ingredients on the package which sound unfamiliar or which are just letters and numbers(!). What the hell is MSG or TBHQ? Look it up – they are both known to cause several health problems. TBHQ, a preservative, is linked to the formation of tumors, and that is just one type of preservative. There are hundreds more. There are thousands of ingredients that are nothing more than chemicals. Be mindful of what you put in your shopping cart because you are, quite literally, buying sickness when you buy processed food.
While you are at it, educate yourself about the ingredients in your toilet cleaner, floor wash, hand soap, conditioner, body lotion. Did you know that there are several standard ingredients in many beauty products which are handled only in a controlled environment by people wearing hazard suits? And they tell you to put that gunk on your face or body! Instead of throwing around blame, research the products you use and try to find non-toxic alternatives which, by the way, exist everywhere. You honestly do not even need most of the products you buy as a number of items you find in your kitchen can be used to accomplish the same task that the toxic chemicals do. So you really cannot say that you do not have a choice.
Meanwhile, even general pollution may be linked to cancer. For example, the exhaust fumes from vehicles contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which, studies are showing, may have a strong link to breast cancer. Because of general air pollution, these exhaust fumes literally get stuck in lower portions of the atmosphere instead of rising higher. This means that this junk is in the air even when there is no more traffic in the streets. It’s not so bad in rural or suburban areas but big cities cannot escape it.
Your risk of breast cancer increases if you live in town or area near a chemical or nuclear plant. So you may want to consider moving elsewhere or taking steps to ensure that the plants are getting rid of their toxic waste in a safe manner.
Another source of toxic exposure which most of us do not really think about is plastic. Our world is full of plastic. Water comes in plastic bottles, our food is shrink-wrapped, almost all cosmetic products from toothpaste to face creams are encased in plastic. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Plastic leaches chemicals if it it gets too hot or even if there is a scratch on it. The chemicals it gives out are horrible. For example, one of the known chemicals in hard plastics is BPA – a chemical that is strongly linked to a higher incidence of cancer. BPA acts like estrogen and can put your body’s own hormonal balance out of whack. Try to avoid buying foods which are wrapped in plastic. Also avoid storing or drinking water out of plastic bottles. Use ceramic or glass ones instead. The same goes for your food.
Be Aware of Your Family’s Medical History
Whether it’s your mother’s cousin, your father’s aunt or your grandmother’s sister, learn your family’s medical history as there may be a clue in there to determine whether you are genetically predisposed to breast cancer. If someone in your family (related by blood, not marriage) had breast cancer, then it is in your genes too which means there is a higher chance that it will manifest. However, simply having the gene for a disease does not mean that you will get the disease so do not panic. Knowing about it though means that you are aware of how things stand and can do your best to take control of the risk factors that you can change.
Get Regular Breast Cancer Screenings
Whether or not you are at high risk for breast cancer, it is prudent to get screened for it at least once a year, twice a year if you are at high risk. This will help your doctor to monitor your breast tissue and alert you to any changes that might indicate a higher risk for breast cancer. Some of these changes can be altered by a medicine, surgery or a simple change in lifestyle. So it is definitely worth undergoing these tests regularly if it means that you will protect yourself in the long run.
Live a Full Life
You may do all of the above and still get breast cancer if you allow yourself to get stressed out a lot. There are volumes of research about the link between stress and the formation of several diseases. Even with cancer, a majority of the people afflicted by the disease were shown to live highly stressful lives. So work less, play more, get an enjoyable hobby, spend quality time with your friends and family, smile, give yourself permission to relax every single day instead of just on holidays, nurture your body, get enough sleep, and take a moment everyday to be grateful for everything you have. There is a huge connection between how you feel and your physical health – a profound fact that scientists are just starting to see. Don’t sit around waiting for them to tell you what to do. You don’t need a doctor or researcher to tell you that loving yourself is good for you.