Back in 2013, celebrity A-lister Angelina Jolie announced that she was going to undergo a double mastectomy after finding out that she had the BRCA genes that increase the chances of developing the disease. Other women in Jolie’s family also had the disease, so it seemed like the prudent thing to do.
But not all women want to undergo surgery to prevent a disease that hasn’t yet manifested itself. What’s more, with increasing knowledge about the role of lifestyle in breast cancer development and better medicine, are such radical interventions necessary? Here’s how to protect yourself against breast cancer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the more alcohol women drink, the more they are likely to develop the disease. Cross-country studies, as well as cohort studies, have shown that when the consumption of alcohol goes up, women tend to develop more breast cancer. It’s worth pointing out that these studies aren’t randomized controlled trials - that is, they don’t prove that alcohol causes breast cancer (some other factor could be involved). But they do point in that direction.
Many women are surprised to learn that breastfeeding could reduce their chances of getting breast cancer. Though the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, many researchers suspect that it might have something to do with keeping the mammary glands active and producing milk, rather than generating new and unwanted cells.
Limit Hormone Therapy
Breast cancer is often considered a “hormonal cancer.” Like prostate cancer in men, researchers believe that it is primarily driven by the hormones in our body. Hormone replacement therapy, something many women do to manage the symptoms of the menopause, could potentially be dangerous. This is why the Mayo clinic suggests that women approach their doctors and ask for alternative options for managing any symptoms they may be experiencing. If you do decide to choose hormone therapy, limit the length of exposure.
Get Regular Checkups
According to experts at Lahey Hospital, women over the age of 20 should do a monthly breast exam to check for lumps. Women between the ages of 20 and 39 should go to their doctor for a screening every three years. And women over the age of 40 should get a mammogram every year. You can learn about Lahey Hospital and their approach here. In short, they recommend that women keep a close eye on their breasts to make sure that the way they look and feel doesn’t change unexpectedly. This can reduce the chances of benign breast conditions developing into a life-threatening disease.
The reason physical activity is so good for us is because it naturally increases our body’s own defense mechanisms. After exercise, our natural defenses and DNA repair systems are ramped up, giving us a boost and allowing our cells to clean out. The Department of Health and Human Services says that 150 minutes of exercise a week can be enough to reduce the risk of breast cancer. However, studies have also shown additional benefits from extra exercise all the way up to 90 minutes per day.