Being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer. Diagnoses and treatments are improving, as is our understanding of genetic risk factors. However, breast cancer remains a major public health problem and is the most common cancer in women. Some risk factors, like family history, age, and when you got your period can't be helped. But a breast self-exam is the least you can do to protect your boobies.
While there is no evidence that bras or deodorants cause cancer, modern life does affect breast cancer risk. Everything you eat and drink and the products you use is an opportunity to make healthy lifestyle choices and reduce your risk of breast cancer. We've gathered up risk-reducing steps you can take to do just that.
Think your personal care products are safe? Think again. Cosmetics such as skin moisturizer, perfume, lipstick, nail polish, makeup, shampoo, hair color, perms, toothpaste, and deodorant and their ingredients are largely unregulated. Per PBS, "Under current rules in the US, the FDA can only act on a product that shows evidence of harm after it’s been introduced to the market." Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP), says there are 363 "chemicals linked to adverse health effects used in beauty, personal care, and cleaning products, and fragrance formulations."
Breastcancer.org's Think Pink, Live Green Booklet states, "What goes on us can go in us. Ingredients such as fragrances, preservatives, and hormone extracts can be absorbed into the body." Parabens and phthalates are two groups of chemicals that are being studied for links to breast cancer. BCPP recommends avoiding fragrance, which "can mask countless carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals, and can be found in nearly half of all personal care products." They also advise against purchasing products made with hormones and preservatives.
See how safe your products are on the environmental health advocacy non-profit, the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetics database. For information on safer product options, visit safecosmetics.org and (EWG) Shopper's Guide to Safe Cosmetics.
Pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones in agriculture as well as the use of industrial chemicals in food processing and food packaging can end up in your food, and therefore your body, according to breastcancer.org's Think Pink, Live Green Booklet. To decrease your breast cancer risk, buy organic when possible—especially the Dirty Dozen. Look for the USDA organic seal or a price look-up (PLU) code beginning with the number nine.
The Think Pink, Live Green Booklet says to "Buy poultry, meats, and fish that were raised without antibiotics." And in order to "Avoid unknown risks of food from animals treated with extra hormones, only buy organic sources of nonfat dairy products and organic or 100% grass-fed beef." Adding that, "It’s best to choose small, young fish—preferably wild-caught rather than farm-raised." For more food chemical facts and tips visit EWG's pesticide guide.
Diet is thought to be partially responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancers. Although fat intake has not been shown to cause cancer, "Breast cancer is less common in countries where the typical diet is plant-based and low in total fat (polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat)," according to breastcancer.org. Everything you put in your mouth is an opportunity to nourish your body. The Think Pink, Live Green Booklet suggests swapping out processed foods for "fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, and spices."
We think of clean drinking water as a right, but the water your drink—tap or bottled—may not always be as safe as it could be. While the public water supply in most major US cities is safe to drink, they can be polluted by agricultural or industrial operations. Contaminants that may be present in source water include microbial contaminants, inorganic contaminants, pesticides and herbicides, organic chemical contaminants, and radioactive contaminants.
Check the quality of your city's water system on the Consumer Confidence Report. If you have questions or concerns about your local drinking water, call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791). Those using private well water can have it tested by state-certified private companies. Filters bearing NSF Standard 53 certification can remove many (but not all) kinds of contaminants. Remember, all water filters need to be changed on a regular basis.
Exercising four to seven hours a week has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Working out also helps breast cancer survivors live longer. In the words of breastcancer.org, "Exercise consumes and controls blood sugar and limits blood levels of insulin growth factor, a hormone that can affect how breast cells grow and behave."
In addition to keeping you healthy and looking and feeling your best, regular exercise lowers the risk of breast cancer by helping manage weight and regulating hormone and blood sugar levels that can trigger extra cell activity. Find a physical activity you enjoy, whether it's yoga, swimming, jogging, biking, or dancing, and exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes a day.
For healthy boobs, lay off the booze. Beer, wine, and liquor mess with the breakdown and production of estrogen, which increases the risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. It may also increase your risk by damaging your DNA.
The numbers don't lie. "Compared to women who don't drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer," according to breastcancer.org. The more you drink, the higher your risk. For each drink beyond the three per week, experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10%.
Everyone knows smoking cigarettes is a bad idea, but nicotine is one helluva drug. After smoking for half a lifetime, I quit by staying in bed for three days straight, signing up for helpful and encouraging text messages from smokefree.gov (text QUIT to 47848), and practicing a mindfulness technique called urge surfing.
We're all about body positivity and loving the body you're in, but a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 could spell trouble. As breastcancer.org explains, fat cells make estrogen. Ergo, extra fat cells make extra estrogen in the body. When breast cells are exposed to extra estrogen over time, the risk of developing hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers grows.
Environmental pollutants that can act like estrogen can be collected and stored in fat cells. Extra hormonal activity associated with diabetes, which is more common in obese individuals, can also possibly increase the risk of breast cancer. Being overweight can also make breast cancer more likely to recur in survivors.