If you’re making resolutions to get healthy this year, don’t forget about your breasts. In the United States, 1 out of every 8 women develops breast cancer by the age of 75. While you can’t prevent breast cancer, practicing good breast health can lower your risk and help ensure early detection.
Caring for your breasts involves taking some simple steps and making the right lifestyle choices. With the help of your primary care provider (PCP) and this to-do list, you’ll have better breast health and a lower risk of cancer by the end of the year:
1. Understand your risk of breast cancer
Being a woman and aging are the two greatest risk factors for breast cancer — putting every woman at risk. You’ll have a higher risk of breast cancer if you have a family member who’s had it or if you have dense breasts.
The good news is that your breast cancer risk can change with time and your lifestyle choices play a role in that change. To determine your risk, turn to your primary care provider, who can assess your risk factors and refer you to genetic counseling when appropriate.
2. Get Your Recommended Breast Cancer Screening
Regular breast screening is the best way to detect breast cancer early. Your mammogram may also help diagnose benign breast issues, such as cysts, which may require further attention.
Screening guidelines depend on your risk level. The American Cancer Society recommends that women at high risk get a breast MRI and mammogram every year beginning at age 30. Guidelines for women at average risk for breast cancer suggest:
- Women between 40 to 44 have the option to screen with a yearly mammogram
- Women 45 to 54 get a mammogram every year
- Women 55 and older (who are in good health) continue with yearly mammograms or a mammogram every other year
3. Know your breasts
Breast cancer is often detected when a woman notices a change in her breasts. If you are not familiar with how your breasts look and feel, changes may go unnoticed. Take time to assess your breasts on a regular basis. If you notice any change to the look or feel of your breasts or nipples, contact your PCP for an evaluation.
4. Exercise regularly
Physically active women are 25 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t exercise. Just 30 minutes a day 5 days a week will boost your immune function, prevent obesity and lower your levels of estrogen and insulin. Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important after menopause, when being overweight increases your risk of breast cancer by 30 to 60 percent.
5. Limit alcohol
Research shows that drinking alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer. Women who have 3 drinks per week have a 15 percent higher risk of breast cancer when compared to women who don’t drink at all. If you regularly drink more than 3 alcoholic beverages a day, each drink increases your risk another 10 percent.
To keep your breast cancer risk low, aim for no more than 1 drink per day. If you are struggling to limit the amount of alcohol you drink, reach out to your PCP for support and guidance.
6. Increase your vitamin D intake
Vitamin D is great for bone health and supports your immune, muscle and nervous systems. Research also shows that a high level of vitamin D lowers your risk of breast cancer and may slow or stop breast cancer cells from growing.
The best ways to get more vitamin D is through direct sunlight exposure and taking vitamin D3 supplements. You can also get a vitamin D boost from eating certain seafood, such as salmon, oysters and sardines. Your PCP can show you how to get the right amount of vitamin D.
To learn more about your risk of breast cancer and breast cancer screening, reach out to your primary care provider.