From Everyday Health, Written by Sue Landry
Set Boundaries on Your BMI
Being overweight has many negative consequences for health, and the risk of breast cancer is one of them. The effect of weight is dramatic. “For a woman who weighs over 175 pounds, the chances of breast cancer are about 25 percent higher than someone who weighs 132 pounds,” Dr. Oz says. “If there was a medication that gave us the same improvement as weight loss, we would be all over it.” Strive to keep your body mass index (BMI) under 25. Two more reasons to keep your weight in check: Breast cancer is often detected at a later stage in obese women, and obese women are more likely to die from breast cancer.
Moderate daily exercise reduces breast cancer risk by 15 to 25 percent, Dr. Oz says. And you don’t have to become a gym rat or train for a marathon — walking 30 minutes five days a week will do the trick. To get the protective effect, walk briskly. “It has to be moderate exercise,” says Dr. Oz, “not just a stroll to the park.” One way exercise may lower the risk of breast cancer is by decreasing circulating levels of estrogen in the body. While estrogen is vital for many normal body functions, increased exposure to estrogen can raise breast cancer risk.
Opt for a ‘Mocktail’
The evidence that alcohol raises the risk of cancer, including breast cancer, is so strong that in 2000, the National Institutes of Health listed the consumption of alcoholic beveragesas a “known human carcinogen” for the first time. Dr. Oz advises avoiding alcohol entirely or greatly limiting drinking. The American Cancer Society says the more a woman drinks, the higher the risk of breast cancer. Even one drink a day increases the risk by a small amount. Women who drink two to five drinks a day are one and a half times more likely to develop breast cancer.
Eat for Protection
A healthy diet can lower your risk of breast cancer, and an unhealthy diet can increase your risk. Dr. Oz advises eating lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Use vegetable oils instead of animal fats, and avoid sugared drinks, refined carbohydrates, and fatty foods. Certain foods offer additional protection, including whole soy, especially if it’s fermented, Dr. Oz says. “Soy has estrogens that attach to cells, but they don’t have the same effect as body estrogen.” Instead, the natural estrogens found in soy can block body estrogen from affecting cells. Dr Oz says other foods that can help protect against cancer include turmeric, garlic, olive oil, green tea, and seaweed.
Say No to Hormones
For decades, women have used hormone therapy during and after menopause to combat symptoms such as hot flashes, irritability, and trouble sleeping. But recent research has shown that hormone replacement therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. Just how much hormone replacement may increase the risk isn’t clear, but Dr. Oz says if you don’t have symptoms at menopause, it’s a good idea to forego the hormones. However, he adds that it’s okay to use hormones if necessary to relieve unwanted menopausal symptoms — advice he gives to his own family members. “Take it for as long as you need it, but probably less than five years is reasonable,” he says.
Women who are over age 60 or who have a family history of breast cancer should consider taking an estrogen-blocking drug such as tamoxifen or raloxifene, says Dr. Oz. Both drugs stop breast cells from being affected by estrogen. According to the American Cancer Society, studies have shown that tamoxifen reduces the risk of breast cancer by about 50 percent and raloxifene reduces the risk by about 38 percent in women at higher risk for the disease. Because there are also risks associated with these drugs, Dr. Oz urges women to talk to their doctors about the pros and cons.
Stay Away From Smokes
Although smoking is a factor in lung and other cancers, its role in breast cancer has been unclear. But a recent review by a Canadian panel of experts showed that both active smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke increase breast cancer risk in premenopausal women. The panel cited evidence from studies suggesting that women who start smoking at a young age are 20 percent more likely to develop breast cancer, and smoking for many years increases risk by up to 30 percent. The bottom line, according to Dr. Oz, is that breast cancer is just one of many reasons to nix the cigarettes. “I could give you 50 reasons not to smoke,” he says.
Breastfeed Your Baby
Numerous studies have shown that women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast cancer. The fact that women in developed countries tend to breastfeed for shorter periods or skip it completely is a major contributor to the high rates of breast cancer in these countries, according to an analysis of 47 studies in 30 countries. When a woman is breastfeeding, Dr. Oz explains, her body produces higher levels of the hormone prolactin, which lowers the levels of estrogen. The longer a woman breastfeeds over a lifetime, the more protected she is against breast cancer, the analysis concluded. Dr. Oz recommends that, if possible, women breastfeed for at least a year.
Take Part in Research
Dr. Oz encourages women to consider participating in clinical trials studying ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer. For example, ongoing research is studying whether soy, vitamin D, green tea, and other supplements or foods affect breast cancer risk. By participating in a clinical trial, you have a chance to help all women, and you may end up lowering your own breast cancer risk at the same time. And there’s another benefit. “Without question, individuals get better care if they’re in clinical trials,” Dr. Oz says.
Take a long walk. Wear a pink ribbon. Attend a fashion show. Organizations that supportbreast cancer research host hundreds of events every year to raise money for research efforts. Dr. Oz says one way to improve your own chances against breast cancer is to support these efforts, and the feeling of community can have a positive effect on your overall health. “I find that people who get involved in things like this get a lot of benefit out of it,” Dr. Oz says. “You count. You matter. You’re making a difference.”