The Big C

We hear and talk about the big, bad C word all the time. It unfortunately affects millions of people all over the world; we now live in a world where having or knowing someone who has been diagnosed with cancer is as common as catching a cold. So why be the rule, when you can be the exception? All over the world, studies are being conducted on possible prevention methods and the most convincing and astonishing evidence is stemming from nutrition and physical activity. While they may not be cure alls, they definitely don’t hurt. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am going to focus primarily on decreased risk factors specific to breast cancer, especially those who have a heightened risk due to genetic factors (having a first degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer or having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation). Thankfully, however, these are also many of the prevention tips for other cancers as well as a general healthy living guideline for any and everyone. Did You Know...?
  • About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
  • In 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer besides lung cancer.
  • Postmenopausal women who decreased their weight 4 to 11 pounds, decrease their risk by 20%.
  • For postmenopausal women, every 11 pounds gained, you increase your risk by 3%.
  • Just being overweight postmenopausal, increases your risk by 30-60%.
So now that you know, it’s time to do something about it. Since just being a woman and aging are the two biggest risk factors and completely unavoidable (unless you’ve found the fountain of youth, and if you have… do you mind sharing?), I think it only appropriate to start with something that is controllable: weight. Being as lean as possible without becoming underweight is one of the preventative measures you can take to decrease your risk. Avoiding weight and waist gain, especially through adulthood, may decrease your risk up 20% and in order to do so, you must adopt a healthful diet. A study following 86,000 nurses over 26 years was just published in the American Journal or Epidemiology in August showing a correlation between a diet high in plant foods, and decreased red meat, sodium and processed carbohydrate intake decreased their risk of developing estrogen-receptor negative invasive breast cancer by 20% (estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer is responsible for 25% of all malignancies and is a type of cancer that currently has no effective treatment). Start by cutting out red meat little by little and replacing it with tons of vegetables, fruits and legumes to reduce your risk too. Are you nuts for nuts? Another study published in the August/September issue of Cancer and Nutrition indicates that there may be a correlation between walnuts and decreased breast cancer risk as well, but you need to eat 2oz of walnuts daily to see benefits. What else can you do? Take Action. Studies have showed that being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day can reduce your risk as well. Increasing your physical activity decreases your body fat, decreases insulin and IG-1 levels, reduces inflammation as well as reducing free estrogen levels, which are all potential body fat mechanisms for cancer. And that’s not all because it’s not only for weight control. Physical activity, even if it’s just walking 10-15 minutes around the block, limits sedentary and TV time, can relieve stress and help sleep, all of which are relative risk factors for developing cancer. Now for the take home messages…
  • Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (at least 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily)
  • Increase your dietary fiber, foods high in antioxidants (vitamin C, lycopene, beta-carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, folate, allium) and cruciferious vegetables
  • Avoid sugary drinks, high fat foods, salty and processed foods, red meat and alcohol
Avoid long term use of estrogen replacement therapy at menopause  
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