When it comes to breast cancer, certain immutable factors like genetics, getting older, or just being born female, determine your risk. But still, experts say there is a lot you can do to protect yourself, from getting your mammograms on time to finding your ideal weight and sticking to it.
This week, US breast cancer expert Erica Mayer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School, offered five tips that can reduce your risk.
1. Get a mammogram, starting at 40 - "Mammography screening does not prevent or cure breast cancer, but it may detect the disease before symptoms occur," says Mayer.
2. Keep your weight in check, and eat a healthy, mostly plant-based diet - Reach for vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fiber. "High-fat diets can lead to being overweight or obese, which is a risk factor for breast cancer," Mayer adds.
3. Exercise - According to one small study, women who exercise for 10 to 19 hours each week saw a 30 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer. "Women who exercise regularly appear to be less likely to develop breast cancer," she adds. "Cancer survivors who are active may have less risk of cancer recurrence compared to those who are more sedentary."
4. Limit alcohol - "The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer," Mayer notes. If you do opt for booze, limit yourself to no more than one half to one drink a day on average.
5. Know your family history - If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, get a genetic test to determine whether or not you have BRCA1 or 2 mutation, the so-called "breast cancer genes." Between 20 and 30 percent of those who develop the disease have a family history of breast cancer. "If a woman is found to have a gene mutation," says Mayer, "options are available to significantly reduce their risk of cancer."