Mind your weight and your exercise routine
We know that keeping our weight in check helps reduce our risk of getting breast cancer, and so does regular exercise. I read in the newspaper just this morning that gym memberships always double in the month of January (and then drop dramatically by late spring), but please don’t think you have to invest a lot of money in gym classes or exercise equipment. You just need to invest some time. Power walking 3 times a week for an hour each time will do it. Get a neighbor (whom you like) and walk together. Those who have a buddy for such activities have a higher probability of sticking to it because you both keep nudging one another along to stay with the program.
- Stop smoking
We know that smoking increases breast-cancer risk, so kick the smoking habit once and for all. I was shocked when the American Cancer Society announced that if the tobacco leaf did not grow on this planet, then 80 percent of all cancers would literally disappear. Incredible.
- Keep an eye on the alcohol
Drinking a bit of wine might be good for your heart, but watch how much of it you drink. More than 1 alcoholic beverage a day increases breast-cancer risk.
- Is it time to rethink your hormone-replacement therapy?
If you’ve been on HRT for a while, discuss with your gynecologist when it’s time to come off. HRT is a drug that’s no longer considered safe to take for years and years. It is for short-term use–for just a few months or a couple of years, to get you over the rough spots. It is a risk factor for breast cancer.
- How high is your risk?
Find out if you have a high-risk profile or not. If you have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter, brother, son, dad) who has had breast cancer, or if you have several second-degree relatives (aunts, a grandmother) on the same side of the family, then your risk might be higher than that of the average population.
If you add to your family history, a personal history of having
- a biopsy that resulted in the finding of atypical cells: ADH (atypical ductal hyperplasia); ALH (atypical lobular hyperplasia); LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ)
- an early start to menstruation (under age 12)
- a late menopause (after 55)
- very dense breast tissue, which makes it hard to read your mammograms
–then you’ll have to realize that you can no longer think of yourself as a member of the 1-in-8 club for developing breast cancer.
Possibly, some extra actions to take
You should therefore consider the possibility that you will have to take some additional steps. If your family history is significant, consider meeting with someone like a genetics counselor, who specializes in working with high-risk patients. Such a specialist can calculate your risk and create a plan to reduce that risk. Or, some women might need to be followed more closely by their gynecologist. Still others will have a high enough risk that they will be advised to take the drug tamoxifen to reduce that risk.
Starting now, commit to “supporting” your breasts and taking good care of them! Even though they can’t thank you personally, you will thank yourself for having made this commitment.
By Lillie Shockney, R.N., M.A.S.