Each year you are asked to participate in runs, galas and many other fundraising efforts on national, provincial and local levels to help raise awareness about breast cancer. These are valuable and important efforts, but what can you do on a personal level to reduce your risk for breast cancer?
Risk factors, symptoms to look for, treatment options, statistics, organizations that can help – there is a lot of information out there and it may seem overwhelming. But, if you take it one step at a time, you will be better prepared to deal with any challenges that come your way. Ultimately, having the best information helps reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
Having a family history of cancer increases your risk of breast cancer. But, even if your family doesn’t have a history of cancer or you don’t know their history, it’s important to be aware of your health. Know your body and watch for signs of cancer. Report any changes to your doctor. Discuss the risks of birth control pills and hormones with your doctor. Breast infections can also affect your cancer risk.
Being overweight or obese, besides being generally unhealthy for you, increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if it occurs later in life, particularly after menopause. A healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can help lower your risk and keep your weight at healthy levels.
Not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health, since smoking lowers your quality of life and increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and at least 15 cancers – including breast cancer. The link between smoking and breast cancer risk is particularly important for premenopausal women.
While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. Keep alcohol at moderate levels or lower (a drink a day or less).
Exercise is one of the best ways to maintain both your physical and mental health. Regular exercise decreases stress levels, helps maintain a healthy body weight, reduces the chances of heart disease and women who are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer.
Regular mammography exams are the best way to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt. Finding cancer earlier means broader treatment options. Women who are screened regularly are less likely to need invasive treatments, have less recurrence and are more likely to survive, if breast cancer is diagnosed. According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, regular mammography screening has been shown to reduce breast cancer deaths by at least 25 percent.
Visit the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation for more information about breast cancer. For more information on types of breast imaging exams, how to prepare and the procedure for each, visit our Breast Imaging services page.
There are some breast cancer risk factors that women have no control over, but knowing which ones apply to you can help you understand your risk and what you can do to lower it. If you feel you’re at high risk, talk to a doctor or other health professional. These can increase a woman’s breast cancer risk:
Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – About Breast Health: Reduce Your Risk
Canadian Cancer Society – Breast Cancer Risks
Mayo Clinic – Breast Cancer Prevention
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2009) Information on Mammography for Women Aged 40 and Older: A Decision Aid for Breast Cancer Screening in Canada. Chronic Disease Management Division, Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control.
Siteman Cancer Center – 8 Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer
Toward Optimized Practice. (2013) Breast Cancer Screening Clinical Practice Guidelines. September.