Beating the odds against breast cancer

Don’t be another breast cancer victim. Fight like a girl with all you’ve got.

“You have breast cancer.” One in eight women will hear this dreaded diagnosis in her lifetime.

But there’s good news in the midst of the bad. While you can’t change your family history, there are concrete ways to increase your chances of being in the seven out of eight who avoid breast cancer. Even high-risk women can beat their odds.

Multiple studies have connected alcohol consumption with breast cancer. The alcohol in wine, beer and liquor increases estrogen levels and other hormones responsible for hormone-receptor-positive types of breast cancer. Alcohol may also damage cell DNA, increasing your cancer risk.

Compared to women who don’t drink, women who consume a meager three alcoholic beverages a week experience a 15% increased risk of breast cancer. Up it to four drinks and your risk increases by 25%, five drinks by 35% and so on. It makes sense to avoid alcohol, but indulging one to two times a week should be safe.

The toxins found in cigarettes have been linked to multiple types of cancers and diseases, including breast cancer. Research shows the risk of breast cancer is highest for women who started the habit before having children and who smoke prior to menopause. If health and long life are at all important to you, you won’t smoke.

There’s also a clear connection between breast cancer and menopausal hormone therapy. Taking estrogen and progesterone for hot flashes, night sweats and other uncomfortable menopause symptoms was common practice for many women until research showed it increased their risk of breast cancer.

Hormones are still prescribed and are useful for unwanted symptoms. However, you’ll want to limit the amount and the duration you take them, as prolonged use of hormone therapies seems to result in much greater risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about other possible options for relief from the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. The good news is a woman’s risk of hormone therapy-related breast cancer decreases to a normal risk when she’s been off the hormones for five years.

Not facing menopause yet? The hormones found in birth control pills slightly increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer as well. Fortunately, this risk ceases when a women has been off the pill for 10 years.

For post-menopausal women, more estrogen is produced in fatty tissue than in the ovaries. So, the more you weigh, the greater your risk of breast cancer.

This is a wake-up call for overweight women. By shedding excess weight through diet and exercise, you can lower your likelihood of suffering from breast cancer. Even a small amount of weight loss is beneficial.

Already at a healthy weight? Stay that way with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Early detection plays a large role in the success rate of treatment. Perform breast self-exams once a month in the shower or lying on your back. Carefully check for lumps and changes in the feel and appearance of your breasts. Talk with doctor about when to have your first mammogram and how frequently you should be screened.

Wish you could do more to fight breast cancer besides personal lifestyle changes? Become a volunteer for programs that help women facing breast cancer. This may involve picking up a cancer patient and driving her to her treatment appointments. You can also make a donation for breast cancer research, sign up to take part in a clinical trial or medical survey, and petition the government to support breast cancer awareness and research.

Take an active role in your fight against this terrible disease and increase your chances of winning.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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