In charge

One in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer—one in eight, that’s staggering. Just imagine you and seven friends having lunch together. One of you will get the disease. Better make sure the lunch you order is good for you—think fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats, little dairy, no alcohol, and moderate amounts of fat, sugar, and calories.

While there is definitely a chance that family history, genetics, environment, and bad luck play a part in the development of breast cancer, research tells us we are also in charge of our cancer destinies—case in point: A healthy lunch (and breakfast, dinner, and snacks) helps fuel good cells and stall bad ones. Here, five methods for fine-tuning your lifestyle in the spirit of breast cancer prevention.

Maintain a healthy weight
. Gaining weight at any age and stage of life boosts a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, says the National Cancer Institute. Haven’t reached menopause yet? Still, you should get your weight in check so you’re ready for this time of life, because as many as 20% of cancer deaths are due to being overweight or obese.

Hormone Replacement Therapy. It slightly increases a woman’s breast cancer risk, according to the large Women’s Health Initiative. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the smallest effective HRT dose for the shortest period of time.

Exercise
. Women who exercise more than six hours a week cut their risk of invasive breast cancer by 23 percent. It’s never to late to start. So lace up your athletic shoes today.

Alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol spike breast cancer risk. Taking folic acid in addition to consuming alcohol helps, but cutting down on drinking is your best bet. An equivalent of one glass of wine per day is all you should drink. Less is better, if you can manage it.

Vitamin D. Pay attention to vitamin-D-rich foods—more here—and soak up the sunshine for 15 minutes each day. If you think you might be deficient, a supplement with at least 1,000 IU of the vitamin is recommended.

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You should know: Asbestos causes cancer

More and more, it’s becoming clear that lifestyle and environmental factors play a role in the development of cancer. That’s why I’m doing my best to eat right, exercise right, and stress less—research says these practices can keep me healthy and just might prevent breast cancer from paying me a return visit.

I’d be wise to avoid contact with asbestos for the rest of my days too, because according to The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center, the stuff is deadly.

Asbestos is a hazardous material, used in the insulation of homes and buildings until the 1980s and still existing in countless products and homes across the country. Contrary to popular belief, asbestos is not a banned material, and a frightening number of manufacturers still use it—a CSI: Fingerprint Investigation Kit toy purchased at Toys “R” Us was recalled earlier this year for exceeding dangerous levels of asbestos. Sadly, there is a 15-60 year latency period from exposure to diagnoses, which means it takes more than a decade before we can realize the effects of such products on our health.

What can you do? Take proper precautions when performing DIY renovations on older homes, for one. And check the materials used in the products that you buy, especially cosmetics and toys.

Here’s why you should pay attention to asbestos: The inhalation of its fibers can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma—a terminal cancer only proven to be caused by asbestos exposure. For more about mesothelioma, hop on over here.

Enter The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center—created to promote education and awareness for those suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. Check out their website here. It features more than 2,000 articles covering the latest news on asbestos-related cancers, as well as breakthrough medical procedures, alternative healing methods, and medical directories that can benefit individuals affected by all forms of cancer. Need free services and counseling? This is your place. Want information about products that may contain asbestos and safety information for properly discovering and removing asbestos in your home? Also your place.

Yes, what we do in our lives and how we do it can affect our risk for developing cancer. Smoking might do it. Lugging around a heavy body might do it. And buying contaminated toys might do it. That’s why I’m doing my best to avoid all risk. I hope you are too.

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Off and running

img_0543.JPGI ran a 5K on my treadmill yesterday. Ran another one this morning. Now I know I can tackle this physical feat come October 4 when I participate in my fourth Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event. What I don’t know is if I can raise as much money this time. Last year, I gathered nearly $4,000 from family and friends.

Two months before the big run and I’m off to a good start: $275 has come rolling in already.

To honor the kind and generous folks who contribute to my breast cancer cause, I will do what I did last year: I will write each and every donor’s name on my body. To reserve your very own spot, click here and donate and if you can. Make it big. Make it small. Every dollar counts.

I thank you.

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Connecting cell phones, cancer

Cell phones cause cancer.

No they don’t.

Yes, they do.

No, they don’t.

Like my little boys who are spending much of the summer disagreeing about almost everything, experts are battling about this very pressing question: Do cell phones cause cancer?

The latest in this ongoing uncertainty comes from the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute who recently urged his faculty and staff to limit their mobile phone use because of the cancer risk. Dr. Ronald B. Herberman especially urges limited use for children. I guess it’s clear where this guy stands.

There’s a growing body of research, says this doctor, linking long-term cell phone use to health problems, including cancer. Although evidence is controversial—the overwhelming majority of studies find no link—he happens to be convinced. He bases his concerns on unpublished data that hopefully will one day be published, so we all can weigh the risks appropriately. In the meantime, I’ll have to determine what’s best for me, a girl with only a cell phone, no home phone, and a definite aversion to cancer.

What’s best for you?

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Saving my life

I heard on one of the morning news programs today that breast self-examinations can be dangerous to your health.

What?

Yes, that’s how the message came across. But they are not so dangerous, really. They are more life-saving than life-threatening—a self-exam saved my life, if that counts—and I want you to know why.

Breast self-exams can be dangerous in this way, say the news sources—backed by doctors, of course: They can turn up suspicious stuff—that’s the point, after all—and they can cause women to worry. When women worry, they tend to visit their doctors. When doctors can’t figure things out, they tend to order biopsies. And biopsies tend to turn up nothing all that worrisome—nearly 80 percent of breast lumps are benign. Self-exams, then, lead to unnecessary biopsies. Not an ideal scenario, I know, but does that make self-exams dangerous? Not in my opinion. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I suggest all women conduct self-exams once per month. Make it about one week after your menstrual cycle when hormonal changes are minimal and make note of how your breasts feel each time you examine them. You’re looking for a change from one exam to the next. I know it can cause anxiety. But I promise you that cancer causes a whole lot more. So why not err on the side of caution? You may not even need a biopsy. Mammogram and ultrasound often come first and rule out the need for needles of any sort.

I’m a fan of surviving breast cancer. Are you? If so, then check those breasts, starting this month.

Photo courtesy of Ruth on flickr

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Ax the alcohol

The connection between alcohol and breast cancer existed at the time of my diagnosis. Nothing conclusive, just a possibility, yet enough for me to forgo that occasional cold beer in a frosty mug at dinner and that sometimes social drink. I don’t want cancer. Once was enough.

I think I’ve made the right drinking decision. Just this past Monday, findings from a large U.S. study—the biggest of three major studies on the topic—revealed this: Alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk of the most common type of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

OK, I’m not postmenopausal, and I didn’t have the most common type of breast cancer—the kind fueled by hormones—but I will go through menopause one day. And I could develop a hormone-sensitive tumor. These facts are enough to secure my choice to remain a non-drinker for all of time.

This new research found that women who consumed one or two small drinks per day were 32 percent more likely to develop a hormone-sensitive tumor. Three or more drinks per day: 51 percent.

Toss the trans-fats. Ax the alcohol. Neither is worth the risk.

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Toss the trans-fats

What causes breast cancer? Oh, I don’t know. Genetic mutations. Family history. Environmental factors. Poor diet. Lack of exercise. Alcohol consumption. Obesity. All are possibilities. Here’s one more: Trans-fats.

The link may not be strong at this point but preliminary research—published in the American Journal of Epidemiology—shows that women with high blood levels of trans-fats may have nearly twice the risk of developing breast cancer than women with the lowest levels. It’s enough to steer me way clear of these fats, found mostly in baked goods, snacks, and a variety of other processed foods.

I don’t want to steer clear of omega-3 fatty acids—the good stuff found in fish such as salmon, walnuts, and leafy green veggies—but interestingly, it seems women with high levels of these fats were not any less likely to have breast cancer.

More about the omega-3s another time. For now, let’s collectively ditch the trans-fats. We already know they’re artery cloggers. The fact that they may also up breast cancer risk is a deal sealer. For me, anyway.

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The 5K and more

I ran a 5K on my treadmill this morning. I love the sound of 5K. It sounds so much more accomplished than 3.2 miles. I’m all about accomplishment these days, especially when it comes to physical fitness.

In February 2007, study findings published in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that five hours of weekly strenuous exercise significantly cuts the risk of breast cancer recurrence. I think it’s safe to conclude that physical activity of this magnitude can help anyone wishing to achieve optimum health, not just those fearing a cancer return. So in the spirit of preventing another brush with breast cancer—and becoming as healthy as I can be—I jumped on the fitness bandwagon. And here I am, many months after this exercise news hit the media, running, and walking, and crunching, and doing whatever I can to keep cancer at bay. I’m also eating a cleaner diet, enjoying a leaner body, and trying to minimize stress. It’s the least I can do, I figure, if I want to live a long and healthy life. And I do.

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The power of prevention

If you’re not convinced that the way you live your life is directly linked to your risk of cancer, you should read this. It’s a landmark report authored by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), and it reveals this groundbreaking news: Excess body fat is now convincingly linked with cancer. So is the consumption of alcohol, red meat, and processed meat. Salt and sugar are no good either. But exercise is, and we’d be wise to get plenty of it if we wish to live long, healthy lives.

It’s taken five long years for all this data to come together. It’s taken nine independent teams of scientists from around the world and 21 international experts who analyzed nearly 7,000 large-scale studies to conclude what many have long suspected: Cancer is not all about genetics, family history, and bad luck. It’s about how we treat our bodies. Consider this: Body fat is linked to six different cancers—colon, kidney, pancreatic, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and endometrium, and post-menopausal breast cancer. If that’s not proof we hold the power of prevention in our own two hands, I don’t know what is.

It’s time to take action, my friends and fellow survivors. Here’s how:

Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

1. Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight.
2. Be physically active as part of everyday life.
3. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods. Avoid sugary drinks.
4. Eat mostly foods of plant origin.
5. Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat.
6. Limit alcoholic drinks.
7. Limit consumption of salt. Avoid moldy cereals (grains) or pulses (legumes).
8. Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone.

Special Population Recommendations

9. Mothers to breastfeed; children to be breastfed.
10. Cancer survivors to follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

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