It’s easy to feel powerless about breast cancer, but there are simple lifestyle changes you can make right now to put you in a better position to avoid the disease.
Three steps could prevent one-third of breast cancer cases in the U.S., the American Institute for Cancer Research estimates.
“It’s really important to understand that we can take action. There are things we can do to lower our risk,” Alice Bender, head of nutrition programs for the organization, told TODAY.
There are no guarantees, but these three strategies may help:
1. Get to — and stay — a healthy weight
This is one of the most important lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk for post-menopausal breast cancer and 10 other cancers, Bender noted.
That’s because excess body fat can produce chemicals that promote chronic inflammation, increased blood levels of insulin and hormones that can spur the growth of cells.
“We know it’s not just a tissue sitting there doing nothing,” Bender said. “It creates an environment that allows cancer to thrive.”
It’s not easy to slim down if you’re already overweight, but a powerful way to start is to just focus on not gaining any more pounds for now, Bender advised. Eat a mostly plant-based diet; keep your calorie intake low; eat lots of vegetables, whole grains and beans; and limit higher-calorie foods.
2. Fit activity into your day
Physical activity reduces the risk of both types of breast cancer: pre-menopausal and post-menopausal, Bender said. The simple act of moving your body can help you manage your weight, boost your immune system and help keep your gastrointestinal tract in good shape.
“Exercise releases a lot of really healthy substances in our body that keep us not just fit, but also healthy in other ways,” she noted.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day — more is even better. A brisk walk that raises your heart rate and helps you work up some sweat is a good example of moderate exercise.
3. Avoid alcohol, or if you do drink, drink moderately
Skip the booze as often as you can or enjoy it at a very moderate level.
“Alcohol is a recognized carcinogen,” Bender said. “It can damage DNA; it can increase hormones in your body, like estrogen, that can fuel cancer.”
For cancer prevention, it’s best to not drink at all, she noted. Women who still choose to drink should limit their intake to no more than one standard drink a day — equivalent to 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.