Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, though it’s not the most deadly (lung cancer gets that dubious honor). However, breast cancer is second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. And men are not immune from the disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), 2014 has seen an estimated 232,670 new cases of breast cancer in women and 2,360 new cases in men. Breast cancer deaths for 2014 t0tal 40,000 in women and 430 in men.
As with most diseases, the goal is to reduce the chance of developing breast cancer, or at least to catch the disease in its early, most easily treatable stages. That’s why healthy lifestyle and screening tests matter.
Here are ten other tips that can help prevent breast cancer:
1. Eat mostly plants. Studies associate diets rich in vegetables, fruit, and fish such as the Mediterranean diet with a decreased risk of breast cancer.
2. Get regular physical exercise. Active women seem to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer. A 2014 study found that women who consume more fruits and vegetables and had a long history of physical activity reduced their risks.
3. Sleep well. That means sleep about 8 hours each night. Accumulated research shows that short sleep, night-shift work, exposure to light during the night, working as a flight attendant, and other causes of circadian (daily rhythm) disruption increases breast cancer risk.
4. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight and obese correlates with breast cancer risk. Ways to banish unwanted fat are to avoid sodas and other added sugars, eat only when hungry, exercise daily, and get enough sleep.
5. Don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, or drink very little. Tobacco smoke increases the risk of cancer in multiple organs. The more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of breast cancer.
6. Breastfeed your babies. Doing so has multiple health benefits for mother and child, including reducing the mother’s risk of breast cancer. Childbirth after 30 is a risk factor for breast cancer.
7. Avoid unnecessary radiation exposure. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) advises women to reduce the use of unnecessary testing with CT scans, PET scans, X-rays. Sometimes radiation therapy is lifesaving, as in the treatment of Hodgkin disease. In that case, the woman should be screened earlier and more frequently for breast cancer.
8. Chill on the hormones. If the menopause transition causes uncomfortable symptoms, discuss your options with your doctor. While one choice is hormone replacement therapy , extended use does increase the risk of breast cancer. If you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, consider other non-hormonal options.
9. Get screened for breast cancer. The most widely used screening tool is mammography, a test that has become controversial due to the possibility of over-diagnosis, false positive tests, and false negative tests. Over-diagnosis means that some breast disease is treated that would probably never have caused significant symptoms.
A false positive means the test indicates breast cancer when there is none. According to the NCI, after each screening, 10 percent of women are recalled for additional testing, which causes, at the least, anxiety. In a false negative test, the report is normal, when there, in fact, was cancer, leading to a false sense of health.
Nevertheless, mammography is the best tool we have for early diagnosis. According to the NCI and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there’s solid evidence of benefit — in terms of reduced cancer deaths — for annual mammograms for women aged 40 to 74 years. On the other hand, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force only recommends mammograms every two years only for women 50 to 74.
Sometimes other imaging techniques — magnetic resonance imaging, tomosynthesis, and ultrasound — are used to back up findings on mammography. Less certainty rests with breast examinations done by women and their health providers, although these hands-on approaches certainly do identify tumors.
10. Consider genetic testing. Donald Aptekar, MD, a Denver obstetrician-gynecologist who speaks widely on genetic testing, says, “If you have a strong family history of breast and or ovarian cancer and/or you are of Jewish ancestry, you may carry a gene mutation (like BRCA 1 or 2) that greatly increases your risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.” A number of other factors increase the likelihood of inherited cancer. Aptekar recommends you discuss whether you’re a candidate for genetic testing with your health care provider or a genetic counselor.
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