After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. And after lung cancer, it is the second deadliest for US women. But there is some good news: breast cancer is one of the most curable cancers when detected early and studies have shown that there are several things you can do every day to reduce your risk.
Eat Your Veggies
Fruits and vegetables are full of cancer-protective antioxidants and phytonutrients. Seven to nine servings per day should be your goal. For most produce, one serving is one-half cup. But for raw leafy salad greens, one serving requires a full cup.
Increase Omega-3 Fats
Women who eat high amounts of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to develop breast cancer. Good choices include olives, olive oil, avocado, raw seeds and nuts (especially walnuts), and wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, Pacific halibut, sardines, herring and anchovies. Search the Seafood Watch database on the website of the Monterey Bay Aquarium to find the least toxic and most sustainably harvested species in your area.
Drink Green Tea
Studies have shown that consumption of green tea is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a compound commonly called EGCG, protects cells by preventing oxidative damage. It also slows the growth of breast tumors, inhibits migration of cancer cells, and stops angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels to fuel cancer proliferation.
Consume Ground Flax Seeds
Foods high in fiber, like ground flax seeds, can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Flax seeds are an especially good choice because they contain omega-3 fats and lignans, compounds that positively affect the metabolism of estrogens in the liver. Flax seeds also benefit women already diagnosed with breast cancer. A study published in Clinical Cancer Research found that eating four tablespoons of ground flax seeds each day for three weeks decreased tumor growth, increased apoptosis (tumor cell death), and decreased HER-2 expression, which reduces the risk of metastasis and breast cancer recurrence, and increases the chance of survival.
Eat More Soy
Soy contains cancer-protective compounds. A large meta-analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examined 18 studies on soy consumption and breast cancer risk. Researchers concluded that eating soy can reduce chances of developing breast cancer. Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for women already diagnosed with breast cancer, soy can reduce the risk of recurrence and death. Always choose traditional soy foods like tofu, tempeh and miso over industrial products like soy milk.
If You Drink Alcohol, Choose Red Wine
Studies show that red wine and fruits containing high amounts of the antioxidant resveratrol - like blueberries, cranberries and raspberries - can reduce the risk of breast cancer by slowing abnormal cell growth and inactivating dangerous estrogen metabolites. If you don't drink, you don't need to start now, eat lots of red and purple berries instead. But if you do drink, choose red wine.
Avoid Refined Carbohydrates
Reducing intake of refined carbohydrates reduces insulin levels and fat accumulation, which reduces the risk of breast cancer. Avoid processed foods, white rice, and foods made with sugar and flour. Whenever you are eat starchy root vegetables like potatoes, always eat the peel. Not only does it contain the majority of vitamins and minerals, but the peel also contains fiber that slows digestion of carbohydrates and their absorption into the blood, which balances insulin levels and prevents fat accumulation.
Xenoestrogens are environmental chemicals with estrogen-like effects. This general term describes many different compounds that have been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Xenoestrogens can be found in industrial pollutants, pesticides and hormone residues in animal products. To reduce your risk of exposure, choose organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. When it's not possible, use the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides to replace the most contaminated fruits and vegetables with the least contaminated ones and reduce your pesticide intake by almost 90 percent. And always choose meat, poultry, eggs and diary products that come from animals raised on pasture, fed their natural diet, and never exposed to pesticides or hormones.
Regular physical activity has been shown to be protective against chronic disease and cancer, including breast cancer. And for women diagnosed with breast cancer, it can improve survival. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that walking just one hour per week at an average speed (2 to 2.9 miles per hour) reduced the risk of death by 20 percent in women with breast cancer. Better yet, those who walked three to five hours each week cut their chance of dying in half. You don’t have to hit the gym - recreational activities can count as exercise too - but aim to be active on most days for 30 minutes or more.
Get Enough Sleep
A study published in Cancer Research that followed almost 7400 women in Finland found that those who slept 9 or more hours per night had the lowest risk of breast cancer, compared to those who slept 8 hours or less each night. Sleeping longer may increase levels of melatonin, offering increased protection against cancer.
Breastfeeding isn’t only good for babies, it benefits moms as well. According to a study published in the medical journal Cancer, breastfeeding babies for at least six months can protect mothers against certain types of breast cancer. But the benefits don’t end there. Studies have also shown breastfeeding helps with loss of weight gained during pregnancy and reduces risk of type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and ovarian cancer.
Because inflammatory and vascular changes related to cancer growth can be detected sooner than solid tumors, which may take years to grow large enough to block x-ray beams and be identified on mammograms, thermograms can identify signs of malignancy in its earliest stages. Experts estimate that thermography recognizes cancerous or pre-cancerous changes up to ten years earlier than any other procedure, mammography included.
Reduce Exposure to Chemicals in Cosmetics
Some cosmetics and personal products contain carcinogens and chemicals like phthalates and parabens that can act as endocrine disruptors in the body, interfering with the production, secretion, transport, binding, action and elimination of natural hormones. Avoid unnecessary exposure and reduce your risk of breast cancer by using the least toxic cosmetics and personal products. Search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database by product or manufacturer to learn about health hazards of items in your household and find better alternatives.
Minimize Supplemental Hormones
A study of more than 8,000 women at the Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic found that long-term use of birth control pills (11 years or longer) was associated with a 200 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers also found that women who took hormone replacement therapy during menopause increased their risk by 81 percent. Minimize cancer risk by minimizing exposure to supplemental hormones, especially synthetic ones. Women of reproductive age should explore alternative methods of contraception and peri-menopausal women experiencing severe symptoms that don't respond to other interventions should choose bioidentical hormones and take them for as short a time as possible.
The same study from the Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic found that women who smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime had a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer. But researchers also found that quitting smoking reduced this risk. It’s never too late to quit.
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