October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women (skin cancer is #1). According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it strikes one in eight U.S. women. And it’s a huge concern for Baby Boomers and seniors, with the majority of cases occurring after menopause.
ACS estimates 300,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2016, with more than 40,000 deaths from the disease. Fortunately, recent research is unraveling a few of the questions related to this disease, and paving the way for you to control some of its risks.
Beyond Your Control…Or Not
You simply cannot change certain risk factors. For example, your sex (being a woman), age (over 55) and genetics (certain genes, your race and a family history of breast cancer) can all increase your changes of developing breast cancer.
You can, however, control lifestyle choices. And this is critical, since only 5% – 10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary, according to ACS. Alcohol consumption, your body weight and activity levels all affect your breast cancer risk.
Extra Weight + Baby Boomers or Seniors = Big Risk
Especially significant after middle age are exercise and weight control. These appear most powerful when they occur together.
Being overweight after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer for a couple of reasons.
• First, fat tissue increases the amount of estrogen we produce, and high levels of this female hormone are a known risk factor for breast cancer. A recent study of 93,000 women over age 50 found that increasing skirt size over the years was a strong predictor of breast cancer. Researchers theorize this is related to the additional estrogen that often occurs when midriff girth increases.
• In addition, insulin levels increase with obesity. Although insulin is required to produce energy from the foods we eat, heavy people can become “insulin resistant.” In this condition, the body’s cells can’t properly use insulin, and increased amounts of this hormone are needed. Higher levels of insulin have been linked with breast cancer.
Exercise helps in both of those areas, reducing estrogen and insulin levels; it also promotes weight loss and weight maintenance. Recent data suggests that as little as 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 hours of brisk walking weekly reduces breast cancer risk by 18%.
What You Can Do Now!
ACS recommends the following lifestyle changes to limit your breast cancer risk:
• Get moving! Find a physical activity you enjoy, and aim for 150 minutes of activity weekly.
• Limit sedentary behavior (sitting, lying down, watching television or other forms of screen-based entertainment). Break up this sitting once every hour.
• Be as lean as possible throughout life without being underweight. If overweight, drop a few pounds–even a 5% – 10% reduction in weight makes a difference in breast cancer risk.
• Eat healthy! Although there’s no conclusive evidence about specific foods and breast cancer prevention, ACS recommends a diet rich in vegetables and fruit (2-1/2 cups per day) and whole grains (for dietary fiber), while limiting fat intake.
• Imbibe with care–Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women.
Want to work on decreasing your risk of developing breast cancer?
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