Let’s admit it. Keeping track of the “to do’s” and what “not to do” to decrease your risk of getting sick gets confusing. Heck, if you drink too little water you dehydrate and too much you drown. Keeping up with research and best practice can be confusing, so I’ve compiled key breast cancer research findings that can help you stay healthy. Knowing that information overload leads to tuning out completely, I’m focusing this blog on ten areas of your life where researchers have found a link to breast cancer. What makes me qualified? No, I’m not a doctor, but something more focused. I’m a breast cancer survivor who follows the latest news and research and looking to decrease my odds of recurrence and using the medium of this blog to share what I’ve learned. All ten areas have research referenced.
The information gained from research findings reminds us all of our responsibility to ‘live well.’ A result of compiling this information was the development of a “Personal Wellness Score” or PWS. The definition of exactly how to go about living well is as varied as the people who are diagnosed with breast cancer. If you are short on time and want the SparkNotes, scroll down to the bottom where I dish out the ten areas in short order.
WHAT WE EAT, EXERCISE AND IDEAL BODY WEIGHT:
The article, “Cancer Survivors Told to Exercise, Eat Healthy, And Maintain Ideal Body Weight,” connects the benefits of exercise, healthy eating and maintaining ideal body weight nicely. Food choices like “power foods,” lean meats, fruits and vegetables along with watching your sugar, fat and simple carbohydrate intake play a role in reaching and maintaining your ideal weight. What should you weigh? There are scads of “charts” to pick from; I selected a link to Weight Watchers where you type in your height. It is best to weigh in at your next doctor’s appointment and have a discussion about where you need to be and strategies for reaching (or maintaining) that weight. In today’s drive through, super-size me society, you need to pause and assess where you are and make a plan to reach or maintain your optimal weight. A demonstrated connection between obesity (or being over weight) and increased risk of getting breast cancer as well as increased risk for recurrence and decreased mortality for breast cancer patients (Exercise Reduces Breast and Colon Cancer Death Rates”) exists.
Just as important as what you put in your yapper is regular physical exercise. Recent research about the positive relationship between exercise and reduced breast cancer risk, “Keeping Fit May Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer” demonstrates that we need to get moving and keep moving to reduce our chances. Exercise is also a key to weight loss, so when you combine healthy eating with exercise, you’ll lose weight, feel better AND reduce your risk of breast cancer!
TOBACCO AND ALCOHOL:
A second grouping is your tobacco use and consumption of alcohol. A well-demonstrated link between smoking and cancer (especially lung) has been established, but questions surrounding the connection between smoking and breast cancer have arisen. “Research Panel Reports Link Between Smoking, Breast Cancer,” spells out the link more clearly. Other studies, too numerous to mention here, demonstrate higher risks of smokers to breast cancer after menopause, for passive smokers under 50 and linked to specific genetic predisposition. So, in a nutshell, don’t start smoking and if you smoke, please quit.
Drinking alcohol has a link to breast cancer – you can pair alcohol with genetics, smoking, obesity or exercise to get even higher odds of developing breast cancer. “Breast Cancer Risk and Low Alcohol Consumption” spells out some of the latest thinking on this. Some studies say a couple of glasses of wine (especially red) per week are good for your heart. Other studies warn that even moderate use of alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Confusing, huh? Some things are becoming clearer and others pose new questions for further research. What can be agreed upon is that breast cancer is a complex disease made up of multiple types of cancer. Each case may require a different strategy deepening on all the factors and type involved.
MONITORING YOUR HEALTH:
The next two steps have to do with proactive, hands-on monitoring of your health and your breasts. First, visit your OB/Gyn or physician annually. Along with the most anticipated PAP smear is a breast exam and opportunity to touch base about your body and any changes. Report anything suspicious (like my bleeding nipple) in-between annual appointments – don’t just wait until next year’s appointment.
Next is something too often forgotten – monthly self breast exam. Consider this your reminder to perform breast exams monthly. Circle a day on the calendar or click on the repeat feature on your smart phone to remind yourself. A link to performing this simple and effective screening is under #8 below. Many breast cancers are detected manually by self-exam, so don’t wait or let your annual mammogram lull you into a false sense of security. Be self-aware and proactive with your health.
The last category I put as ‘other factors.’ This includes the role of stress management and environmental factors. I could have included genetics, but that is a risk factor that requires specific testing and results, combined with the ten areas discussed in this blog, can create the ‘perfect storm’ for breast cancer. Check the new and developing genetics tab on this site as I explore this separately.
Some of the newer research is coming out on the impact of the environment and your risk (think the chemicals in plastics, water and air pollution and other living conditions, packaging and food choices). A link to a .pdf explaining what environmental factors could play a role in breast cancer and other health issues is included here,”Breast Cancer and the Environmental Research Centers.”
Stress and worrying is being researched to see if there is a link to breast cancer. There is a demonstrated link between stress and how aggressive breast cancer is (Stress Linked To How Aggressive A Cancer Might Be) as well as the potential for reoccurrence in breast cancer survivors (Breast Cancer Recurrence Impacted By Stress). There also seems to be a connection with lower stress and the effectiveness of drug therapy, chemotherapy and radiation. We all know that stress (personal, physical) negatively impacts how we feel and look (just look at how our US Presidents age during their years on Pennsylvania Ave). There are positive steps that can be taken to minimize stress and worry about both getting breast cancer and reoccurrence. Read “Breast Cancer Patients Benefit from Stress Management” for additional insights.
10 Ways to Minimize Your Risk for Breast Cancer – SparkNotes version
The following ten areas work together as preventative prescription for minimizing your breast cancer risk (and help anyone live longer quite frankly):
1. Make good food choices. I think we all know what that means.
2. Obtain and maintain your ideal weight. http://www.weightwatchers.com/health/asm/calc_healthyweight.aspx
3. Exercise regularly http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/247051.php and http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247008.php
4. Get your sleep and work day shifts if at all possible http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/245914.php
5. Avoid tobacco products. Do not smoke. Period. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/147831.php
6. Stop drinking alcohol. If you do drink, limit yourself to an occasional drink. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832299/
7. Schedule regular (annual) visits to your physician and follow up with prescribed screening or diagnostic tests. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/screening/breast/Patient/page1
8. Perform monthly breast self-examination http://www.ewbc.com/breast-health/breast-self-exam.php
9. Manage your personal stress level using available resources.
10. Reduce your environmental risk factors.http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/centers/breast-cancer/index.cfm
WHAT IS YOUR PHP SCORE?
Answer the ten questions and find out. Remember, this is something I developed to better understand my risks in and how I can achieve a healthier life. No major university or health association endorses the validity of this quiz. It is just a chance for you to look in the mirror right this very moment. Every positive change you make in your life raises your score!
1. Are you at your ideal weight and making good food choices?
(0) no (1) at ideal weight, but don’t make good food choices (2) at ideal weight AND make good food choices
2. Do you get 7-8 hours of sleep sleep per night? (0) no (1) yes
3. Do you work the night shift? (0) yes (1) no
4. Do you smoke? (-1) yes, excessively (0) yes, moderately (1) no
5. Do you exercise?
(0) no (1) yes, but not as much as I should (2) yes, very regularly
6. Do you drink alcohol? (-1) more than I should (0) 1-2 drinks per week (1) no
7. Have you visited your physician in the past year for a check-up?
(0) No (1) Yes, but still haven’t gone for further diagnostic testing as recommended by my physician
(2) Yes, and am up to date on all tests required for my age-group and family history recommendations
8. Do you perform monthly breast self-exams? (0) No (1) Yes
9. Do you manage your stress?
(0) No, I worry about getting breast cancer or reoccurrence frequently (1) Not much, I try to keep myself educated and make sure I live well to help reduce my worries and stress (2) Yes, I am proactive and do things like the following: joined a support group, do Yoga, see a therapist, talk about my stress with loved ones.
10. Are the environmental factors in your life putting you at risk for breast cancer?
Things like water and air pollution where you live, lead paint, PFAA’s, PFOA’s…read the .pdf link above for more information.
(0) yes (1) no
TOTAL SCORE: ?
BRITTA’S FEEDBACK TO YOUR SCORE: DISCLAIMER: Use this as a guideline only and check with your health professionals to create a plan to improve your health. This quiz was developed based on my personal distillation and understanding of research and best practice
(-3 to 4) SEEK HELP! Reach out to family, friends, co-workers and medical professionals to get on track to living well.
(4-10) YOU CAN DO BETTER! Yes, you are doing some things right, but look over your 0’s and any negative numbers and make a plan today to improve.
(11-14) WOW! You are a model of living well. Keep it up and try and encourage others along the path.
HINT: A year ago I would have scored a 10. Today I scored a 12, so I’m improving, which we all should be doing! If you see me in person, ask which two points I’m working on.