Be an advocate when it comes to breast health and cancer prevention

Breast health is something many women take for granted, even while they hear news stories about the rising incidence of breast cancer.

Exercise can help prevent breast cancer.

By Dr. Tanya Wilke

For The Courier-Herald

Breast health is something many women take for granted, even while they hear news stories about the rising incidence of breast cancer. The disease is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, and will eventually impact most women in some way – either personally or in the life of someone they love.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and 2009 marks the event’s 25th year. Though breast health is important every month, this event offers a reminder for women to brush up on lifestyle factors and health choices that may help prevent breast cancer, and to continue cultivating everyday habits that will lead to better health, overall.

Taking control

While the exact causes of breast cancer are unknown, certain risk factors are clearly linked to the disease. These risks include certain things you cannot change, such as your gender, age, family history, race and personal health history.

However, there are also many breast cancer risk factors that you can change and which also contribute to a generally healthy lifestyle.

What are some lifestyle changes that can lead to better breast health? Consider these Top 6 health tips:

Moderate your alcohol consumption. Many studies have linked alcohol with breast cancer. We don’t know how much alcohol it takes to increase your odds of getting the disease, so be conservative. Consider limiting your alcohol consumption to less than one drink a day or avoid alcohol completely.

Stop smoking. A new study shows that smoking 100 or more cigarettes may substantially increase a woman’s odds of developing breast cancer, but the risk decreases as soon as she stops smoking. The study compared smoking history and other breast cancer risk factors among 1,225 women who developed breast cancer and 6,872 who did not. (This study was reported in The Breast Journal, September/October 2009.)

Control your weight. There’s a clear link between obesity and breast cancer, especially when weight gain occurs after menopause.

Eat healthy food and limit dietary fat. At this time, no clear link has been established between a high-fat diet and breast cancer risk, but eating a diet low in fat will help you to maintain a healthy weight and will decrease your risk of other diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Exercise. Numerous studies show that being physically active makes you less likely to develop breast cancer. Even 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, can help to protect you. Not only does it contribute to your general health, it helps keep your weight down. (Include weight-bearing exercises in your routine to help keep your bones strong.)

Be vigilant. Become familiar with your breasts’ shape and texture and pay attention to them. Start having yearly mammograms at age 40. If you notice a new lump, skin changes on your breasts, nipple discharge or any other irregularities, talk to your doctor right away.

No woman has the guarantee of a cancer-free life for herself, her daughters, sisters, mother and friends. But developing healthy, everyday habits and partnering with your physician to become an advocate for your health can go a long way to reduce the risks of this potentially fatal disease.

Tanya Wilke, MD, is a board-certified family physician who specializes in women’s health. She practices at Enumclaw Medical Center, a part of the Franciscan Medical Group.

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