Lower Your Risk This Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is here and we are now in the season of pumpkin spice, spooky movies, and breast cancer awareness! October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is dedicated to bringing attention to the impacts of breast cancer and how to detect and treat it. Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers among women in the United States affecting nearly 1 in 8 women (1). Like all cancers, breast cancer is complicated and scientists aren't positive of the direct causes. However, recent research has identified certain risk factors, like the environment and lifestyle, that could be associated with the disease.
If you're in your 20s or 30s, breast cancer may seem like something you don't have to worry about until later in life. However, some of these risk factors can be modified by your lifestyle, and changing behavior early in life is important. Take action this October and protect yourself using our top three tips to decrease your environmental risk of breast cancer.
- Limit alcohol consumption- studies show that any amount of alcohol increases risk for breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the more risk you take on. Alcohol can damage DNA in your cells, or increase levels of estrogen (a hormone involved in the development of many breast cancers) (2). This is not to say you must refrain from enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day, some studies even show that moderate alcohol use can be protective for heart disease! However, if you do decide to drink it is important to practice moderation. Managing lifestyle risk factors can be a difficult balancing act. Bottom line: Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption is always a good idea and other decisions about alcohol and health should be made with careful assessment of your other risk and lifestyle factors
- Stay smoke free! Tobacco smoke contains a handful of cancer-causing agents and is associated with higher rates of breast cancer, especially among younger women (3). The carcinogens in tobacco smoke can bind to DNA leading to mutations and tissue damage, and many of these carcinogens have affinity for breast tissue due to their chemical makeup. Evidence suggests smoking tobacco works synergistically with other factors to substantially increase risk .
- Be proactive about your health. This means staying active, eating a balanced and healthy diet, scheduling regular women's health check-ups, and looking into genetic counseling if you have a family history of breast cancer. Exercise and weight management through a healthy diet have both been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Because fat cells store estrogen, overweight and obese women are more likely to develop cancer in breast tissue (5).
Even though you probably don't need ANOTHER reason to cut environmental toxics out of your life, it is also worth noting that preliminary evidence suggests other toxics such as pesticides, BPA, metals lead and mercury, could be associated with breast cancer risk. Although mechanisms are unclear thus far, scientists speculate that endocrine disrupting chemicals like pesticides and BPA act on the estrogen pathway. And heavy metals like lead and mercury may interact with and inhibit the body's natural cancer defenses. Even though the research is new, it may be worth your while to avoid products containing these chemicals, especially if you have other breast cancer risk factors (6,7).
Be proactive this breast cancer awareness month and do what you can to lower your risk!