There is a lot you can do to lower your risk of breast cancer. Taking control of your self-care is the first place to start. Investing in yourself, rethinking your choices and changing old habits takes work, but you are worth it.
The amount of women diagnosed with breast cancer has steadily increased over the years. Currently in the United States, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Your personal risk of breast cancer can be increased by some things you can’t change like age, race, genetics and family history. However, you are in control of the lifestyle choices you make that can increase your risk. While all medical professionals recommend mammograms as the gold standard for breast cancer detection, not enough medical professionals take the extra step to discuss lifestyle and diet recommendations that decrease your overall risk. So let’s discuss some of them here.
Physical activity in perimenopause and menopause appears to protect against breast cancer according to The American Cancer Society. Physical activity is also good for weight maintenance. Getting active helps to prevent obesity - more common in menopause. Women who are overweight or obese, having higher BMIs (greater than 25) in menopause are at increased risk for breast cancer. While we are not exactly sure how much physical activity is protective, following the American Heart Association’s recommendations of 150 mins of exercise per week is a good rule of thumb.
Smoking and passive smoking (second hand smoke), increase your risk of breast cancer. Your risk increases the longer you smoke and by the higher amount of packs you smoke. You can decrease your breast cancer risk by stopping smoking. If you live with someone who smokes, encourage them to stop.
Consuming alcohol is definitely a risk factor that many midlife women ignore but shouldn’t. Your risk of breast cancer increases with consuming as little as 3 drinks per week. All types of alcohol count equally - wine, beer, liquor, etc. Enjoy that social cocktail every once in a while if you like but overall avoiding alcohol helps to decrease your risk.
Red and Processed Meat
There are some studies that eating a lot of red or processed meat can increase your risk of breast cancer. Limiting or skipping red meat and/or processed meat altogether is another way to decrease your personal risk.
Some studies have shown that diets low in calcium and vitamin D have been associated with breast cancer in perimenopausal women. Eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D not only decreases your breast cancer risk but is also good for your bone health. If you are not sure if you are getting enough vitamin D, check your level. We made vitamin D testing easy to order without a doctor’s visit at MyMenopauseRx. You can obtain a lab order right from your patient dashboard.
Current natural hormone therapy with estradiol and micronized progesterone, like those prescribed at MyMenopauseRx, are thought to be safer according to the North American Menopause Society. Until current medical studies are complete, if you are concerned of any increased risk of breast cancer, taking a cautious approach is always best. Current guidelines recommend you consider limiting your use of combined hormone therapy to 5 years. If you are using only estrogen, your risk of breast cancer may actually be decreased but the guidelines still recommend stopping estrogen use after 7 years. Compounded bioidentical hormone therapy is not recommended by the North American Menopause Society or the International Menopause Society. Despite what you may read in the media, they have not been proven to be safer than FDA approved bioidentical hormones. In fact, due to their lack of quality control, they may even be more harmful. If you are using hormone therapy, a yearly discussion with your menopause specialist is a must! They stay up to date on the latest medical literature to help guide what is safe for you.
Every woman is unique. Your risk of breast cancer is different from your neighbor, friend and even your sister. Pause and take the time to think about the daily choices you make. Improving your lifestyle and diet will not eliminate your breast cancer risks completely, but making healthy choices can definitely decrease it. Take the time for self-care. Get your yearly mammogram and most of all, be sure to discuss any health concerns with your doctor.