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How Moms Can Lower Their Risk of Breast Cancer

Masterfile

You’d have to have been hiding under a rock for the past month to not know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And for all of the sporting of pink ribbons (and pink just-about-everything-else), walks for breast cancer, and lectures on the importance of early detection, young women are often left feeling like there’s little for them to do beyond breast self-exams, given that mammograms are usually reserved for women 40+. We all know that breast cancer continues to strike women at an alarming rate -- about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives -- and while your risk prior to age 40 is less than later in life, we spoke with Dr. Marisa Weiss, president and founder of Breastcancer.org and a practicing breast oncologist, to learn about the choices young women -- and especially moms -- can make now to protect themselves against breast cancer.

Dr. Weiss, author of Taking Care of Your Girls: A Breast Health Guide for Girls, Teens, and In-Betweens, explained that female breasts are highly impressionable from their emergence during puberty (these days possibly as early as 7 years old) until a woman’s first full-term pregnancy, meaning that they respond to a full range of chemicals as well as estrogen until they mature in preparation for breastfeeding, following a full-term pregnancy. Everything from your weight, things you put into your body, when you have your first full-term pregnancy, whether you breastfeed, and more can influence your breast cells during that time. And while you can’t control your genetic risk factors, there are small, easy changes that you can make now in your everyday life to lower your risk for breast cancer later in life.

Dr. Weiss suggests the following steps to help keep yourself healthy:

Moms

  • If you’re in a position to do so, consider having children earlier, ideally before age 30 (but of course, if that’s not when you’re truly ready to become a mom, DON’T!)
  • If possible, breastfeed your baby (the greatest protection for breasts is from breastfeeding for a year, but any nursing is better than none)

All women

  • Get and stick to a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol use to 5 or fewer drinks per week
  • Get enough sleep (generally aim for about 8 hours a night)
  • Exercise 3-4 hours per week
  • Buy organic produce instead of conventional, especially when it comes to the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and veggies treated with the greatest amount of pesticide (hint: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, and blueberries were in the top 5)
  • Buy hormone-free and non-fat dairy products
  • Remove skin and fat from meats you eat
  • Stick to a mostly plant-based diet: two-thirds of your plate should be veggies, fruits, seeds, grains, nuts, etc. – any red meat, poultry, etc. should be used as a side dish
  • Eat small meals throughout the day to help keep your hormones at a steady level
  • Check out non-hormonal methods of effective birth control, e.g., diaphragms, condoms, or a non-hormonal IUD like Paragard
  • If you use a hormonal method of birth control, like the Pill, take breaks from it if possible
  • Perform breast self-exams (you can learn how to perform a breast self-exam here) and get a clinical breast exam as part of your regular check-up with your health professional

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