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Breast cancer. It's on every woman's mind, and for good reason.
The American Cancer Society reports that breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, excluding skin cancers. In a group of eight women, probability says that one will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. But we hope to protect you by turning worrisome thoughts into positive actions with risk-reducing advice from one of AdventHealth's leading breast surgeons, Olga Ivanov, MD, a board-certified and fellowship-trained breast surgeon at Florida Breast Health Specialists and the Medical Director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at AdventHealth Celebration Health.
"A critical component of breast cancer prevention lies in promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors that support longevity," says Dr. Ivanov. "There are a few scientifically proven health behaviors that can, in fact, help "turn on" cells that protect our bodies from cancer."
Dr. Ivanov shares her tips on how to reduce your breast cancer risk by adopting a few key healthy habits.
1. Get 8 Hours of Sleep at Night.
"Getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night has been shown to improve longevity," states Ivanov.
While you sleep, your body is hard at work, restoring and rebalancing your immune system and hormone levels, among other functions.
"It's important to get adequate sleep because that is the time for your body to regulate human growth hormone and cortisol levels (stress hormones)," says Ivanov.
"Human growth hormone slows down the aging process, and sleep helps our body to rejuvenate its production in the body. When it comes to cortisol, too much has been linked to the accumulation of belly fat as well as higher reported stress levels, which can increase breast cancer risk, too."
2. Exercise for 150 Minutes per Week.
Regular exercise can be the best preventive medicine. In fact, Dr. Ivanov has a magic number of minutes to keep your body moving each week to reduce your breast cancer risk.
"We know that 150 minutes of exercise per week has been shown to have many health benefits, including preventing breast cancer," explains Ivanov.
"Exercise is protective against cancer. It helps our bodies "turn off" genes that initiate or cause cancer and "turn on" protective genes that prevent cancer," she continues.
All that's to say: get moving for better breast - and overall - health.
3. Eat These 4 Foods Regularly.
"Breast cancer rates are skyrocketing in the U.S., especially in post-menopausal women with obesity," remarks Ivanov.
She explains that this is because having too much fat in the body, and especially belly fat, causes a woman's body to produce even more estrogen. And too much estrogen in the body can be linked to developing certain types of breast cancer.
"To reduce estrogen in the body, it's important for women to achieve a healthy weight with good nutrition, including a few key foods that studies have shown to have similar cancer-fighting properties as anti-cancer medications."
Dr. Ivanov recommends that women include these foods into their diet to reduce their breast cancer risk:
- Green tea without sugar (one to two cups per day)
- Ground flax seeds (one tablespoon per day)
- Seaweed (which is rich in iodine)
Ivanov suggests, "Add in these nutrient-dense foods and consider severely limiting simple carbohydrates that spike your insulin levels and lead to the development of fat, such as white sugar, flour, rice, potatoes and processed foods."
Generally speaking, here are some more nutrition tips for breast health:
- Follow a balanced diet containing the main food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein).
- Eat whole grain food such as whole wheat flour, oatmeal and brown rice.
- Take a daily multivitamin
- Limiting alcohol and saturated/trans fats
4. Reduce Your Stress. Everyday.
Learn to care for yourself the way you care for others, which includes reducing and managing your stress. When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called epinephrine as a part of your "fight or flight" response. While epinephrine is important for survival, it's not as beneficial to the body in chronic doses.
"Breast cancer cells can have epinephrine receptors, so the more stress that we introduce to our bodies, the more it can potentially "feed" cancer cells," states Ivanov.
She recommends adopting stress reduction practices in your daily life, such as 15 minutes of meditation, yoga or relaxation techniques as wholistic steps to reduce your cancer risk.
5. Know Your Health Numbers.
Your annual physical provides an opportunity for your doctor to establish baseline information he/she can use for comparison purposes in future physical exams. Because even small changes can indicate potentially serious problems, an annual physical can detect an illness before it begins or during its early stages when treatment can be less invasive.
"Stay up-to-date with your annual exams, both with your primary care provider and women's health physician," recommends Ivanov. "Routine exams help you and your doctors to track trends in your health and wellness, assess your risks over time, and develop tailored screening schedules, such as mammograms."
6. If You Think It's Different, Get It Checked.
Perform monthly breast self-exams and contact your physician immediately if you feel anything abnormal.
Dr. Ivanov echoes this message: "Learn yourself, learn your body - do your breast exam on a regular basis. If there is something that feels different to you, don't just shrug it off. Bring it up to your physician. That's the key."
7. Get the Girls Together.
Tap into a support network to stay healthy, such as your friends, family, spouse/partner, spiritual community, online discussion groups and/or others.
"Women are great about supporting each other, so find ways to connect with the fellow women in your life and celebrate healthy practices," says Ivanov.
Do activities together that promote breast and overall health, congratulate your friend for going to get her mammogram, or help motivate a family member who is trying to implement an exercise routine. It's the help we receive along the way that can make a big and lasting impact to our whole health.