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As October comes to an end, so does Breast Cancer Awareness Month. With that in mind, remember that there are ways you can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Don’t just think about it in the month of October; think about it year round, and follow the steps below to lower you risk.
Remember, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point during her life. While you can’t change some risk factors, like genetics and aging, there are things you can do that may lower your breast cancer risk. Here are four ways to help protect your breast health.
+ First, watch your weight. I have written about this a lot over the past year, and more and more data is coming out everyday regarding a healthy body weight and your risk of cancer.
Being overweight or obese increases your breast cancer risk. This is especially true after menopause and for women who gain weight as adults. The major source of estrogen for postmenopausal women is not the ovaries, but fat tissue. The more fat tissue a woman has, the more estrogen to fuel breast cancer growth.
If you’re already at a healthy weight, stay there. If you’re carrying extra pounds, try to shed some. There’s evidence that losing weight may lower breast cancer risk. One easy goal to get started is to try losing 5 percent to 10 percent of your current weight over six months. For most women, that means dropping just half a pound per week.
+ Second, exercise on a regular basis. Again, I have commented on this a lot this year, and it just makes sense that maintaining a healthy weight will require some exercise. Many studies have found that exercise is a breast-healthy habit.
One study found women who did as little as 75 to 150 minutes of brisk walking each week had an 18 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Ramping up your exercise routine even more may lower your breast cancer risk even further.
I recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. And don’t cram it all into a single workout — spread it out over the week.
+ Third, limit your consumption of alcohol. Women who have two or more alcoholic drinks a day have about 1 1/2 times the risk of breast cancer compared to women who don’t drink at all.
That doesn’t mean you can no longer enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. My recommendation is to consume no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. For those of you trying to cheat, a 32-ounce highball is not considered one drink.
+ Finally, avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) had long been the cure for night sweats, hot flashes, osteoporosis and other troublesome symptoms of menopause. But in 2002, researchers found the treatment was far from a miracle.
Postmenopausal women who took a combination of estrogen and progestin were more likely to develop breast cancer as well as other problems, a finding that led to a plummet in HRT use in the past decade. Breast cancer risk appears to return to normal within five years after stopping the combination of hormones.
Estrogen alone does not seem to raise breast cancer risk, although it can up the risk for some other health problems. Talk with your doctor about all the options to control your menopause symptoms, and the risks and benefits of each. If you do decide to try HRT, it is best to use it at the lowest dose that works for you, and for as short a time as possible.
Dr. C. Joseph Bennett is a board-certified radiation oncologist and a member of the Citrus County Unit of the American Cancer Society. Watch “Navigating Cancer” on WYKE TV at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and at 10 a.m. Thursdays. If you have any suggestions for topics, or have any questions, contact him at 522 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, or email email@example.com.