When meeting with Dr. Collette for the first time, she outlined a number of different lifestyle changes that I should make to reduce my risks of developing cancer. They are great recommendations for absolutely anyone!
- Weight/BMI: Breast cancer is known as one of the "fat cancers." Not meaning that it only happens to over weight people, but rather because estrogen is stored in fat cells. Thus the more fat you have on your body, the more estrogen stores you have. Most often, breast cancers are due to high amounts of estrogen in your body. It is recommended to keep your BMI below 25, preferrably 20 or lower. Challenging, yes! Doable, yes!
- Physical Activity: An obvious way to get or keep you BMI down is to get physical activity. However, exercise also is important because it gets your heart pumping. You blood is then getting more oxygen and moving this oxygen quicker to all the parts of your body. Your cells need this healthy oxygen to grow, divide, multiply as they should. We want healthy cell growth! Unhealthy cell growth leads to cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. You could even push yourself to do more like 200 minutes for even more added benefits. For more info on this or to possibly participate in a great study, visit the wiser sister study.
- Alcohol: I was told to never drink more than 2 drinks in a 24 hour period. Other things I have read said no more than one per day. Regardless, the more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing cancer. It has to do with the way your liver handles the alcohol. When you drink, your liver has to work very hard. Binge drinking in particular overworks your liver. I'm not just talking about college party binge drinking. The occasional wedding, work Christmas party, or Packer game where you drink too much is also considered binge drinking. Your liver is so busy handling the alcohol that it cannot take on the normal processes leaving additional estrogen in our bodies.
- Fiber: The more fiber you eat, the faster your food will leave your body. This means that the processed foods with higher levels of toxins get out of our bodies faster. The estrogen has less chance to stay in your body. Colon cancers have also been connected to the BRCA mutations, so keep that colon working. I eat a minimum of 20 grams of fiber each day. I should have bought stock in the Fiber One brand.
- Vitamin D: Most people living north of Atlanta, Georgia are deficient in Vitamin D. Getting a good dose of Vitamin D3 can reduce you risks by 50%. It's a small pill and easy to swallow.
- Omega 3s: Healthy fatty acids like fish oil and flax seed oil are currently being researched. Initial studies have been showing promising results. It is thought that these oils act as anti-estrogen. Even if it doesn't end up providing any breast cancer prevention, it's good for you for so many other reasons like cholesterol, heart health, and mood. For more information about current clinical trials check out the University of Kansas Cancer Prevention Center
- Sleep: Getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night can increase your risks 60%. Much of the repair of the everyday wear and tear of living happens during the night. Sleep deprivation can cause low grade inflammation, which is linked to almost all types of cancer and heart disease. Here's my excuse for being in by by 9:00 every night.
- Put as little extra estrogen in your body as possible: If our hereditary breast cancer is estrogen receptive, then I need to make sure I put as little estrogen in my body as possible. Our bodies naturally produce it, so I can't completely eliminate it (yet). Instead, I just need to make healthy choices when it comes to contraception and other medications to make sure I am not putting any additional estrogen into my body.
After all of these factors, it's still important to know that we cannot completely prevent cancer. We can simply reduce our risks. Cancer grows because of multiple reasons. Even if I do develop cancer, I have to be careful to not blame myself for something that I have done in the past.