Whether you have a known family risk for breast cancer or not it makes good sense to be aware of how to stay healthy and minimise your risk as much as possible.
Menopause itself is not associated with an increased risk of developing cancer, but prolonged HRT use – particularly if oestrogen only – does increase it as does the fact that our age is also significant.
However, the rates of many cancers, including breast cancer, do increase with age and this is the single-most important risk factor for breast cancer.
The chances of developing the disease increase with age as around 95% of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 40, and about half are age 61 and older.
You may have a high risk but it does not automatically mean you will develop breast cancer. The reverse is also true, with none or few risk factors it is still possible to develop the disease. These are the most commonly listed risks:
* Having cancer in one breast (may recur or develop in other)
* Having a history of ovarian, uterine, or colon cancer
* Having a genetic abnormality in breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2
* Late menopause (after age 55)
* Starting menstruation early in life (before age 12)
* Having a first child after age 30
* Never having children
Now none of these factors can you do anything to change, but there are some things you can alter.
How You Can Minimise Your Risk
The very best thing you can do is to minimise your exposure to oestrogen, whether through drugs, the environment or the food chain so try these simple tips:
1 For menopausal symptoms make the switch to bioidentical hormones as progesterone is known to support breast health and reduce cancer risk with no side effects or withdrawal symptoms. Progesterone can also be used by women with a history of breast cancer and treatment as it balances the excess oestrogen (oestrogen dominance) which is linked to it. Dame Dr Shirley Bond – a private GP who has been prescribing bioidentical hormones for many years – has recommended using Serenity alongside Tamoxifen to offset the side effects of the drug and similar ones of that class.
Evidence now suggests that the high doses of synthetic hormones in HRT – and that the longer a woman is exposed to these – then the greater the risk of developing breast cancer. This is why the recommended time limit for women on such medication is now 5 years. , but if your doctor is taking you off do be aware that you need to come off slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as severe hot flushes.
2 Exercise is important at any age so keep it simple, pleasurable and something you can commit to. Exercise improves breathing so you get more oxygen into your tissues and this is important because it promotes lymphatic flow to help cleanse breast tissue.
It can also help to promote healthy insulin levels, improve your immune defence system and help you lose weight. That last one is very important – not just because you will feel better – but as body fat produces oestrogen you need to reduce it to reduce the breast cancer risk.
3 Vitamin D is a key nutrient for breast health so if you are not getting enough sunshine then look at taking a supplement, especially in winter or if you do not spend much time outdoors
4 Loosen your bra, or make sure you are not wearing one all the time as doing so disrupts the normal healthy lymphatic flow in your breast tissue,and can also affect the temperature of your breasts. Unrestricted movement or bounce during normal activities gently messages and helps stimulate lymphatic flow. Breast health is better in slightly cooler temperatures than the average 98.6 F body temperature.
A study in the USA between 1991 and 1993 found that women who wore bras either not at all or for the least amount of time each day (and not at night) experienced the highest levels of breast health.
5 Ditch the plastic in your home wherever you can as research shows that bisphenol-A, or BPA, as well as its common replacement, BPS, are both similar in oestrogenic activity to estradiol, the most potent form of estrogen.
These are widely used in plastic water bottles and milk jugs, the lining of canned foods and drinks cans, as well as plastic microwavable plates and utensils.
6 Don’t skimp on sleep as at night, in a darkened room, your brain produces Melatonin which is again very important for breast and immune health. It’s a potent antioxidant and it decreases the amount of oestrogen that your body produces.
Any amount of light in your bedroom can shut down or reduce your body’s melatonin production and the ideal hours for sleep – and for optimal melatonin production – are between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Melatonin hormone levels spike between midnight and 1 a.m.
so if you are a night owl then you will be missing out on the benefits of melatonin.
7 Physical health is important, but so is your emotional health so you need to manage your stress levels and learn to develop a positive attitude to life.
Two simple things that can reduce it are to develop an active social life with positive people that you enjoy being around and practice the simple technique of gratitude for something that has occurred during the day – preferably more than one.
8 Make your diet support your breast health, not make it more vulnerable. This means a diet with plenty of leafy greens and raw vegetables, and juicing them is a simple way to absorb the nutrients they contain if you don’t eat many vegetables normally. High in important antioxidants for breast health are those containing lutein, lycopene, and carotenoids. You will find them in fresh berries, yams, tomatoes, carrots, spinach,, cherries, cranberries, and watermelon.
Vegetables like kale, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips and cauliflower contain a breast health-supporting nutrient called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) or its metabolite DIM so eat those regularly too.
Soy may not be the best choice for your breast health diet as some studies have shown that soy may promote oestrogenic activity, which is not good but you can eat fermented soy products such as natto, miso, and tempeh.
Tea is definitely on the menu as all types – green, white, and black – contain polyphenols, which are naturally-occurring antioxidants.
Levels of one especially potent polyphenol known as EGCG are highest in green tea.
Keep your levels of omega 3 high with foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, krill and fatty fish. These help promote a normal inflammatory response and support healthy cell development which supports breast health.
An excellent spice for breast health is turmeric, it is a potent antioxidant and helps promote a normal inflammatory response. If you don’t use it in cooking, or eat much Indian food you might try taking a curcumin supplement instead.