According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 231,840 U.S. women will receive an invasive breast cancer diagnosis in 2015. While your chances of getting breast cancer increase as you age and genes play a large role, a few lifestyle choices you make today can shape your risk factors later in life.
Karoline Nowillo, MD, who specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients, spoke to host JD Roberto on Daily Burn 365 earlier this week about the biggest breast cancer threats.
“The greatest risk of getting breast cancer is having a genetic mutation that predisposes you. There is nothing you can do about that. It’s in your genes, but it’s important to be aware,” Dr. Nowillo says.
Identifying Your Breast Cancer Risks
The genes that Dr. Nowillo is referring to are BRCA1 and BRCA2, the most common hereditary causes of breast cancer. If you have inherited these genes from a parent, you have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than other women without the genes. The good news for those BRCA-positive: Following cancer screening guidelines can help with early detection and open up a variety of treatment options.
“What women are doing is early surveillance with their breast cancer surgeons. And some women are making the dramatic decision of removing their breasts before they develop breast cancer, “ Dr. Nowillo explains. “Some women have up to a 90 percent chance of developing breast cancer — and early in their 30s and 40s too — so that’s a personal decision.”
3 Lifestyle Changes for Breast Cancer Prevention
Even if you can’t control your genetics, you can control what you eat, how often you exercise and how much you drink alcohol. Dr. Nowillo breaks down how to make over your lifestyle and protect your health from breast cancer.
1. Lose Weight. The number on the scale doesn’t always give you an accurate picture of your health, but it can indicate an elevated risk of breast cancer, particularly if you’re overweight or obese. “Obesity increases your risk of developing breast cancer,” Dr. Nowillo says. Women who are obese tend to produce and store more estrogen. High amounts of estrogen have been linked to breast cancer, Dr. Nowillo explains. Packing on extra pounds can also increase your chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions. By eating a healthy, balanced diet (think vegetables and fruits, lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains and legumes), you’ll shave off the weight and see improvements in your energy levels, sleep and body confidence — not to mention reduce cancer risk.
2. Moderate alcohol consumption. Thinking about that post-workout beer? Well, you might want to skip it — or curb the habit at least. Having a brew or two more often than not can have some serious consequences: “Alcohol intake has also been associated with increased breast cancer risk and recurrence,” Dr. Nowillo explains. “That’s because the liver is an organ that cleans up impurities in your bloodstream. So if you have a high alcohol intake, that affects your liver and impacts its cleaning up process.” Aka it makes your liver function take a downhill turn. Women should keep their alcohol intake to one drink a day and men up to two.
3. Quit Smoking. This isn’t news, but people can sometimes forget that the effects of smoking are lasting. So it’s always better to quit now than later. “Smoking, although it’s not a direct cause of breast cancer, it does diminish your health. Plus, not smoking can help with your breast cancer recovery and treatment, if you do get diagnosed,” Dr. Nowillo says. While putting the light out can be hard, focusing on healthier habits, like exercise, can put you at a better path to quitting for good.
Men take note: Dr. Nowillo says one percent of breast cancer cases occur in men, so the disease isn’t exclusive to women. “Men can get breast cancer because they have the same breast cells,” Dr. Nowillo says. “However, there is minimal and less functional amounts of breast cells and tissue in men than in women, so it’s not as common.” Still, men, it’s important to protect your breasts (and the rest of your body), too.