8 Ways to Keep From Becoming Another Breast Cancer Casualty

Some evidence-based strategies for avoiding the single most common cause of death among women between the ages of 35 and 50.


I wear my seatbelt, get my flu shot, wash and sanitize my hands, wear sunscreen, scrub the fruits and veggies clean, look both ways when I cross the street, and never take candy from strangers. But what can I do to protect myself (and my family) from the single most common cause of death among women in my own age group, 35 to 50 years old? Here are a few evidence-based strategies to increase your odds of avoiding advanced breast cancer:

LACE UP. According to the large-scale, decades-long Women's Health Initiative study, women who walked just 30 minutes per day at least five days a week (exercise pace, not a leisurely stroll) decreased their breast cancer risk by 20 percent. I know how hard it is to summon the motivation to fit exercise into your life, but then I think about what Rachel Ballard-Barbash from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says about that: "If you can't make time for being physically active in your daily life, plan to make time for being sick."

KNOW YOUR BODY MASS INDEX. And make a realistic weight loss plan to keep it under 25. Calculate your BMI in less than a minute here. According to the American Cancer Society: "Both increased body weight and weight gain during adulthood are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause." Some have placed this increased risk at 25 percent. "If there was a medication that gave us the same improvement as weight loss, we would be all over it," Dr. Oz has said. And we'd be stalked by even more mind-numbing pharmaceutical advertisements during our favorite TV shows.

According to a large-scale, decades-long study, women who walked just 30 minutes per day decreased their breast cancer risk by 20 percent.

LEARN HOW TO DO A BREAST SELF-EXAM. And set a date to do it every month. Smaller cancer equals greater chance of survival. Go to Don't Be Shy for more info and links to instructional videos.

QUIT THE SMOKES. Do you need another reason? We've already got lung cancer, heart disease, tongue, oral and nasopharyngeal cancer, emphysema, hypertension, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, premature skin aging, yellow teeth, stench, expense, social isolation. If that's not enough for you, add breast cancer to the list. A Canadian panel of experts reviewed data linking smoking to breast cancer and concluded: "Results from the nine cohort studies reporting exposure metrics more detailed than ever/never and ex/current smoker show that early age of smoking commencement, higher pack-years and longer duration of smoking increase breast cancer risk 15 percent to 40 percent." They also found a 65 percent increase in pre-menopausal breast cancer risk in non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. It's time.

LIMIT THE COCKTAILS. And don't shoot the messenger. According to the American Cancer Society, the consumption of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol a woman drinks. Compared to non-drinkers, women who consume one alcoholic drink per day have a very small increased risk. Those who have two to five drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who drink no alcohol. If you choose to imbibe, a recent small study suggests that red wine might be the safer beverage choice due to its activity as a nutritional aromatase inhibitor, inhibiting the conversion of androgens to estrogens and potentially conferring a protective effect on the breasts. Call me a buzz-kill if you will, but for now mindful sipping seems the prudent course.

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Currently on staff at the Montclair Breast Center, Stacey Vitiello is a breast imaging specialist. She trained at Georgetown, the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and Yale, and is certified by the American Board of Radiology.

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