October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month—an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Spreading awareness and encouraging women to creating plans to detect the disease in its early stages is what October is all about. People should also be open to getting a better understanding of breast cancer. Take part in Breast Cancer Awareness Month by educating yourself on risk factors, symptoms, and ways of prevention.
While scientists are determining how to prevent the many complications of breast cancer, women should focus on diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, weight gain, smoking, and family history.
About 1 in 8 women in the United States—12% of the population—will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, reported BreastCancer.org. In 2014, an estimated 222,570 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,570 cases of non-invasive breast cancer. About 85% of breast cancer occurs in women who have no family history of the disease. Although breast cancer deaths have been declining since 1989, 40,000 women are expected to die of the disease in 2014.
Breast cancer symptoms vary widely from lumps to swelling to skin changes. However, many of these cancers produce no symptoms. Symptoms that may be similar to those of breast cancer may actually be the result of non-cancerous or benign conditions, such as an infection or a cyst. This type of cancer can begin in the ducts, the lobules, or the tissues in between.
Both increased body weight and weight gain are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause, according to the American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, alcohol intake may be a risk factor.
A number of studies have also shown that moderate to vigorous exercise can lower the risk. Other research has suggested a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products can lower the risk of this cancer, the Society added.
Lowering fat intake has not been shown to lower the risk, however, it was not mentioned that fat is necessary for metabolizing the fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K.
“Women who breastfeed for several months may reduce the risk,” the Society continued. “Not using hormone therapy after menopause may also be helpful.”
In addition, women with a BRCA mutation may reduce the risk by 50% by having their ovaries removed before menopause. The surgery removes the main source of estrogen in the ovaries. However, a second opinion is recommended before deciding on this operation.
“Most women with a BRCA mutation develop breast cancer, but some don’t. These women would not benefit from the surgery, but would have to deal with the side-effects,” the Society said.
The Society suggested avoiding exposure to radiation and energy-derived pollution. Medical-imaging methods, such as computerized tomography, use high doses of radiation, which have been linked to breast cancer risk. You can reduce your risk by having these tests done only when necessary.
Some research has suggested a link between breast cancer and exposure to chemicals found in the work place, gasoline fumes, and vehicle exhausts.
There are a number of risk factors that women have a control over; however, knowing what they are can help to better understand the risk, according to the Siteman Cancer Center, St. Louis, Missouri. They include:
- Older age, especially 60 and older
- Family history of breast cancer
- First menopausal period (menarch) before age 12
- Menopause at age 55 or over
- First childbirth after 35
- No children
- Height of 5 feet, 8 inches or taller
- Dense breasts.
- History of benign breast disease, such as atypical hyperplasia
Although controversial, breast cancer screening remains the best way to protect yourself from breast cancer, the Center advised. They suggest:
- Women over the age of 20 should get screened regularly for breast cancer.
- If you are between 20 and 39, get a clinical breast exam every 3 years.
- If you are 40 and over, get a mammogram and clinical beast exam annually.
- If you are at a high risk for this cancer, you may need to get a mammogram more often.
Do not rely solely on self-examinations. While they are important, they do not take the place of a clinical breast exam.
Breast cancer survivors with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood are twice as likely to survive the disease as women with low levels of this fat-soluble vitamin, according to Cedric F. Garland, M.D., of the University of California School of Medicine in San Diego.
“Vitamin D metabolites increase communication between cells by switching on a protein that blocks aggressive cell division,” Garland said. “As long as vitamin D receptors are present, tumor growth is prevented from expanding into the blood supply.” He added that vitamin D receptors are not lost until a tumor is well advanced. This is the reason for better survival in those whose vitamin D levels are high.
There is no compelling reason to wait for further studies to incorporate vitamin D supplements into standard care regimens, since a safe dose of vitamin D needed to achieve high serum levels above 30 nanograms per milliliter have already been established, he added.
According to the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, the current RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU for adults, and 800 IU for those over 70. Your doctor may recommend a higher dosage.
In a lab experiment at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sandra V. Fernandez, Ph.D., et al., found that a derivative of vitamin A—retinoic acid—found in sweet potatoes and carrots—helps to turn pre-cancerous cells back into normal, healthy cells.
After reviewing the data from 51 studies, H. Fulan, et. al., of Harbin Medical University, People’s Republic of China reported in Cancer Causes Control that, “our results indicate that the total intake of retinol could reduce the risk of breast cancer.”
While it is still being investigated, P. Chan, et al., reported in the British Journal of Cancer that studies suggest that folate may have preventive effects against breast cancer. Folate is the B vitamin in foods, and folic acid is the vitamin in supplements.
While there are more than 2 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S., it is very important to take precautionary actions for prevention. As scientists continue to research ways of prevention, for now women should be aware of what to focus on:
- Follow a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products
- Monitor alcohol intake
- Avoid exposure to radiation, energy-derived pollution, chemicals found in the work place, gasoline fumes, and vehicle exhausts
- Increase vitamin D and folate intake
Education on the symptoms and receiving clinical breast exams are also vital tools in the prevention process.
Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and throughout the rest of the year, women are encouraged to create an early detection plan and to invite others to do the same. Everyone is also encouraged to host fundraisers to help provide mammograms for women in need. For further information, people are also advised to share Beyond The Shock, the National Breast Cancer Foundation breast cancer educational resource, with family and friends.