How I'm Trying to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Both of my grandmothers had breast cancer.  This was years ago; both of them had mastectomies and thankfully lived a long time after their cancer treatment. I was probably in junior high when they had breast cancer and don’t really remember much about their treatment. I do recall my mother telling me my grandmother (her mother) got up, packed her bag and was ready to go home the day after her surgery, she was not one to sit around!

I am always reminded about their breast cancer diagnosis every time I fill out a medical history form and especially when I get my yearly mammograms. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) I fall into the moderate health history risk category due to having “one or two first or second-degree female relatives with breast cancer (in one breast only), with both relatives diagnosed after age 50.” Because of this family history, I started getting mammograms at age 40. I have a few other risk factors that potentially increase my risk of breast cancer – I’ve never had children and thus never breastfed babies. Pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce a woman’s number of total menstrual cycles and therefore her exposure to hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. This decreased exposure is associated with a decrease in breast cancer risk. Also, breastfeeding itself may have a direct effect on breast cells that may make them more resistant to cancer cells. (www.cancer.gov)

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While I can’t change the fact that both grandmothers had breast cancer, there are lifestyle factors that I can control to help reduce my risk of getting breast cancer. This does not guarantee I won’t get breast cancer, but I do feel that I am taking charge of my overall health and doing what I can to live as healthy a life as possible!

1.       I eat a “plant-based” diet. I am not a vegetarian by any means; I eat meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy (love dairy!). However, the bulk of my intake comes from plant sources – vegetables, fruits and grains, especially whole grains. Patrick and I both like salads so that is an easy way to get at least 1-2 servings of vegetables in each day. (Include picture of a typical salad) Note our salad “bowl” for dinner – we each use one of these for our salads – I wish I could find something nicer looking but typical salad bowls are just too small! Breakfast usually consists of a whole grain such as oatmeal or whole-wheat toast topped with peanut butter or guacamole (my new favorite!). I typically take some type of grain/vegetable salad mix for lunch each day and then have fruit for snacks. 

American Cancer Society Recommendation: Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods. Eat at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.

 Typical salad - in a mixing bowl (one serving!)

Typical salad - in a mixing bowl (one serving!)

 

2.       I exercise. I walk my dog twice a day for about 25-30 minutes each time. Granted, it is not a “power walk” by any means (he does a lot of stopping and sniffing) but it is a great way to start my day and wind down after work, get in some steps and it is great for Harry (he is much calmer after going for a long walk!). I also run or walk with a friend a couple days a week and try and do resistance-type exercise a few times a week (an area I need to work on). 

American Cancer Society Recommendation: 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week

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3.       I watch my weight. Honestly, I don’t weigh myself, we don’t even have a scale at home. I do somewhat monitor my weight though by how my clothes fit and just how I feel in general. When I notice clothes fitting a little tighter I don’t start counting calories but try to be more mindful of what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, when I’m eating and really why I’m eating. Like a lot of people, I often eat when I’m not even hungry. My “trigger time” is after dinner when we’re just relaxing or watching TV. So many food behaviors are simply food habits or in response to emotions – “I’ve had a tough day, I’m going to treat myself with cookies and ice cream” or, as in my case, “I’m finally sitting down relaxing, I’m going to munch on dry cereal or graham crackers while I watch TV”, even though I’ve just finished a full dinner. This is an on-going struggle for me, I’ve definitely noticed that I can’t eat as much as I used to and maintain my weight. What I have found that works is to think and plan ahead what I’m going to eat, have the food available, focus on the food (not the TV!), enjoy what I’m eating and then put my attention on something else – talking to Patrick, watching a show, reading a book or magazine, etc.

American Cancer Society Recommendation: Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life. Get regular physical activity and limit intake of high-calorie foods and drinks as keys to help maintain a healthy weight.

 

Do you know your risks? What do you do to decrease your risk for breast cancer?

Laura Rutledge