Breast cancer originates when a malignant tumor grows in the cells of the breast. It can occur in any part of the breast, like the milk ducts, lobules, or nipples. Sometimes, when the cancer is detected in an early stage, it can be nipped in the bud faster and more efficiently. However, when not detected early, one cancerous tumor has the potential to spread to other parts of the body and advance in stages. Fortunately, studies have shown that nutritional and lifestyle changes can help in breast cancer prevention. Let’s break this down.
Cancer cells grow and divide exponentially through blood and lymph vessels. This act of cancer invading the bloodstream is what doctors mean when they say, “Unfortunately, cancer has metastasized.” The same is the case with more than 80% of breast cancers. The tumor spreads to other parts of your body. That’s why it’s essential to be aware of the symptoms, risks, the importance of regular check-ups, indicators, causes, and tips on breast cancer prevention.
Treatments have improved with time and technological advancements, and many ways to control the disease exist. Despite professional help, a patient can inculcate other crucial lifestyle and dietary changes that impact the disease and can actively help with breast cancer prevention.
The Role of Nutrition in Breast Cancer Prevention
Before we dive into this topic, it’s essential to understand that no single food can save you from breast cancer. However, some dietary choices have been associated with a reduced risk of developing this cancer. Listed below are some critical ways in which a good diet can keep you healthy:
Keeping your health in check
A bad diet and breast cancer go hand in hand. Being overweight post menopause increases the chance of breast cancer. You must maintain weight before and after menopause through a balanced diet and regular physical activity.
Following a proper diet
A research paper on nutrition and breast cancer suggests that a balanced diet that includes a variety of wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can contribute to overall health and therefore reduce the risk of breast cancer. These foods provide essential nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that support the body’s immune system and help prevent cell damage.
Limiting alcohol consumption
WHO states that alcohol is the most significant risk factor for breast cancer. Moderate alcohol consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer too. Hence, it’s better to limit alcohol intake or avoid it altogether.
Reducing red and processed meat
High red and processed meat intake has been associated with a high risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, those who consume a lot of red meat during adolescence were associated with 22% of the premenopausal breast cancer statistics.
Adding fiber, calcium, and vitamin D to your diet
Adequate fiber, calcium, and vitamin D intake are essential for bone health. These three nutrients play a role in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Healthy eating tips for breast cancer prevention
Your relationship with food should make you feel happy. It shouldn’t be toxic, and it shouldn’t put you at risk of developing any disease. Here are some healthy eating tips for breast cancer prevention:
- Plant-based diet: As mentioned earlier, red and processed meat come with a high risk of breast cancer. That’s why it’s best to switch to a plant-based diet. If you can’t become a complete vegetarian, then at least keep switching between meat and plant-based foods frequently. Don’t restrict yourself to meat. You can start a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
- Healthy fats: Many healthy fats are found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. These fats provide essential fatty acids without the harmful effects associated with saturated and trans fats found in pork, butter, cheese, and beef.
- Lean protein: Choose lean protein sources like poultry, fish, beans, and tofu.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of water at least 8 to 10 ounces a day. Proper hydration is essential for overall health and helps the body function optimally.
- Say no to soy: Soy foods like tofu, soy milk, and edamame contain natural compounds called phytoestrogens, which have been a topic of debate regarding breast cancer risk. Plus, they cause digestive issues. It’s best to avoid them or limit their consumption.
Exercise and breast cancer prevention
Physical activity is directly related to the reduced risk of breast cancer. When you engage in regular physical activities, you maintain a healthy weight, leaving no space for obesity to become a risk factor. Exercise helps in burning calories and controlling weight. In addition, regular exercising also regulates hormone levels like estrogen, which has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Exercise can help balance hormones, reducing the risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancers.
Some studies suggest aerobic exercise may promote healthy breast tissue by reducing breast tissue density among postmenopausal women. When you regularly exercise and keep track of your health, you are also in tune with your mental and emotional health. A sound mind is also essential if you want to stay away from breast cancer.
Lifestyle changes for breast cancer prevention
Apart from regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet, many other lifestyle modifications can help reduce the risk of breast cancer:
Always breastfeed your baby
If you are a new mother, it’s best to breastfeed as it reduces the risk of pre and post-menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It’s even more beneficial for your health if you breastfeed your child for more than six months.
Limit Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) involves taking medications, going under the knife to remove their ovaries, or taking female hormones to become a woman. Some women also take HRT to delay their menopause. Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, heart stroke, and blood clots. On the other hand, if you are looking to take HRT to manage menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal problems, and infections, it’s important to discuss the benefits and potential risks with a doctor first.
Avoid environmental toxins
Environmental toxins and chemicals are usually found in pesticides, household cleaners, and certain plastics, as studies suggest a link between them and breast cancer. Protect yourself by wearing a mask whenever you are cleaning the house. Also, limit plastic usage as much as possible because plastic releases harmful chemicals when scratched or heated.
Limit exposure to radiation
Minimize unnecessary radiation exposure, especially if you are a young woman. This includes unnecessary medical imaging tests that involve radiation, like CT scans, which should be done only when medically necessary.
Less stress and more sleep
Chronic stress can strongly weaken the immune system and potentially contribute to cancer development. Manage your stress through relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, or hobbies. The more you stress, the worse you will sleep at night, and vice versa. So, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Poor sleep patterns and disruption of the body’s internal clock have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Even a single night of sleep deprivation can increase the risk.
Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and birth control
This isn’t the first time smoking is linked to cancer. Smoking increases breast cancer risk. Similarly, excessive alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for breast cancer. In addition to tobacco and alcohol, combined oral contraceptive pills (estrogen and progesterone) can cause breast cancer in some women. If you take OCPs, it’s best to go with mini-pills with only progesterone.
Regular check-ups and breast cancer screenings like mammograms and clinical breast exams can help detect cancer at an early, more treatable stage. You can also do a self-examination at home. For instance, keep an eye on the shape of your breast. If you find anything odd with the contours of your breast, reach out to a doctor immediately. Also, if you spot any nipple discharge (other than breast milk), that’s one of the warning signs you should never ignore. So, always check yourself to protect yourself!
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Leading an active lifestyle, not just structured exercise can contribute to overall health. Having a balanced diet, avoiding prolonged periods of sitting, and incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can be highly beneficial, especially if you are on the breast cancer prevention route.
While all of these lifestyle changes can help minimize the risk of breast cancer, they do not guarantee complete prevention. The best approach for you is to do a self-exam every once in a while and go for early detection programs, medical check-ups, and screenings, along with a healthy lifestyle.