Empower yourself – adapt a healthier lifestyle to decrease your risks for developing breast cancer
Expert advice from Dr. Rhonda M. Johnson
It’s empowering to know that last year there were more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. There is more knowledge than ever out there about the disease. Being aware that breast cancer is known to be more common in African-American women under age 45, and about 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime is important – but so is knowing what steps you can take to help prevent and/or detect breast cancer early.
There are risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer that we cannot control such as family history, age, race and simply being a woman – but there are risks that you can control every day.
Here are some of the preventive measures you can take to lower your risks of developing breast cancer or detecting it early:
Get your mammogram. Mammograms are X-ray pictures of the breast that can find breast cancer early. Screening mammograms are used to check for breast cancer in women who have no symptoms of the disease. If you are age 40 or older, you should have screening mammograms every one to two years. Women who have multiple risk factors should talk with their health care provider.
Talk with your doctor, family and friends. Talk with your doctor about your family history. Learn how to perform self-exams. Share information with other women in your life. Encourage each other to get a mammogram.
Monitor your weight. Especially after menopause, women who are overweight are at an increased risk of breast cancer. So even before you reach menopause, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight.
Maintain healthy eating habits. While there are no foods proven to cause breast cancer, it’s still a good idea to restrict sources of red meat and other animal fats (including dairy fat in cheese, milk and ice cream) because they may contain hormones, other growth factors, antibiotics and pesticides. Opt for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Increase your exercise. Evidence is growing that exercise can reduce many cancer risks. Strive for 30 minutes of physical exercise 5 or more days a week.
Reduce alcohol consumption. Keep your alcohol intake to a minimum.
Don’t smoke. No, smoking does not cause breast cancer, but it does make you more vulnerable to other diseases and chronic conditions.
Reduce your stress and anxiety. Meditation, yoga, visualization exercises deep breathing, and prayer can help you reduce stress and anxiety.
In observance of breast cancer awareness month, I encourage you to address your risks, make your health a priority and inspire the women in your life to do the same. Empower yourself to be as healthy as you can be. If you are a Highmark member, log in to the member website to learn more about breast cancer prevention, www.highmarkbcbs.com. You can also visit the National Cancer Institute website at www.cancer.gov (search term: breast) or call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Dr. Rhonda M. Johnson is the medical director of health equity and quality services at Highmark Inc. She leads Highmark’s efforts to reduce racial and ethnic health care disparities among Highmark members through clinical interventions and improvements in health literacy, language access and health-plan cultural competency.
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