Breast cancer is a scary subject. It’s the most common cancer in women worldwide with nearly 1.7 million cases diagnosed in 2012. It might be a little hard to imagine that you or someone you know might develop the disease. In fact, 1 in 20 women in Malaysia are at risk. No one knows the exact interplay of factors that lead to one having the cancer whether it’s family history, early menarche, late menopause, or not bearing children at all. There are several things we can do to cut our risk of getting the disease though. We’ve listed 6 habits that will, hopefully, help keep the oncologists away.
Breast Cancer Prevention Habit #1: You Snooze, You…Win
We all know what staying up all night does to us. The sluggishness in our bones, the inability to stay awake at work, being cranky and more irritable generally, and it ages our skin terribly! And that’s just the least of our problems. Sleep debt has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and depression among other health issues.
Estrogen stimulates the growth of breast cancer cells whereas melatonin suppresses estrogen’s tendency to do that. Unfortunately, melatonin is only secreted in darkness. And in this age where our sleep cycles are wrecked by all-night Netflix binges and burning the midnight oil, our bodies aren’t producing enough melatonin. Yikes! If you’re not convinced, a study has shown that breast cancer patients who had 6 hours of sleep per night were more likely to have aggressive tumours than their counterparts who slept for an extra 1 or 2 hours. So, don’t screw with your circadian rhythms, people! Put your phones and laptops far, far away, and make sure you catch at least 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye!
Breast Cancer Prevention Habit #2: Don’t Wait to Get to a Good Weight
If you are an overweight or obese (with a body mass index that’s higher than 25) post-menopausal woman, your risk of developing breast cancer is higher than women who have healthy weight levels. It’s worse if the excess weight is around your waist as abdominal fat cells are particularly metabolically active, producing estrogen among other hormones. And estrogen encourages the growth of breast cancer stem cells. And after a woman enters menopause, the fat cells convert precursors in her body to estrogen.
Research from the Nurses’ Health Study shows that post-menopausal women who lost weight and kept it off for 4 years or more had a 40% lower risk of developing breast cancer. UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers also found that surgical weight-loss was more effective than diet-induced weight loss at keeping the tumours at bay. While we can’t all afford bariatric surgeries in the name of cancer prevention, we can always manage our weight by exercising regularly and getting a balanced diet.
Breast Cancer Prevention Habit #3: It’s Time to Get Physical
Getting physical has never been better for your health. Exercise is good for your skin, heart, sleep quality, moods, and your sex drive, among other things
But if you need more persuasion, over 100 studies have found that physical activity is positively connected to a reduced risk of breast cancer. Christine Friedenreich, scientific leader of cancer epidemiology and prevention research at Alberta Health Services, and her colleagues found that women who exercised 300 minutes a week saw the biggest drops in their body fat levels in comparison in comparison to women who exercised the recommended amount (150 mins/week).
You don’t have to climb mountains or be an Olympic athlete but you can fit in 45 minutes of serious physical activity every day. Right?? Swim, hike, take the stairs instead of the elevator, get a standing desk, set a no-email day in the office and walk to your colleagues’ tables instead. The point is to get up and start moving!
Breast Cancer Prevention Habit #4: Lay Off the Booze
If you love nursing a drink, it would be hard to go cold turkey. Numerous studies have found that there’s a strong link between regular alcohol intake and increased breast cancer risk. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, half a glass of wine or even a small beer could increase the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer by 5%. It could also increase the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women by 9%. Scientific evidence also exists for the links between alcohol and cancers of the bowel, liver, mouth/throat, and oesophageal cancer.
Well, we’re not suggesting you smash your liquor bottles and give up alcohol completely, but it would be a good idea to have some alcohol-free days in your week. And if you don’t drink at all, well, more power to you!
Breast Cancer Prevention Habit #5: Give Up the Ciggies
Quit smoking. Giving up your cigarette habit would do wonders for your mind and body. Everybody knows that smoking has been associated with lung cancer and heart disease. But did you know that women who started smoking before their first periods have a 61% higher risk of developing breast cancer? The same study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, also found that women who began smoking after their first menstrual cycle but 11 or more years after giving birth are also 45% more likely to get the disease. Give up the cigarettes, ladies! And if you don’t smoke at all, please don’t start. Your breasts will thank you for it.
Breast Cancer Prevention Habit #6: Eat More Fibre
Fill your diet with more fibre! Harvard researchers found that young girls and women who had diets rich in fibre reduced their risk of breast cancer by 16%. It’s suggested that fibre helps reduce oestrogen levels. Their high antioxidant levels may help neutralise the free radicals as they damage cells, leading to cancer. Additionally, a study of 1,500 Chinese women found that women who had a meat-sweet ─ meat, fish, white bread, and milk ─ diet were doubly likely of getting breast cancer than women on a vegetable-based diet.
Since fibre is mostly found in fruit and vegetables, it would be helpful to add more helpings of apples and broccoli to your diet. Guess that saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” has some truth to it after all!
By Zoe Liew.
Take advantage of all the activities in conjunction of Breast Cancer Awareness! From free screenings to marathons, check out what you can do here.