May 22, 2013

5 Ways to Bust your Breast Cancer Risk

By Tara DeLancey AlOmari


Bismillah 

This article will present five of the most effective ways to decrease your risk of developing breast cancer, including some surprising ways you will not hear in the mainstream media.

Breast cancer is a very serious disease affecting women all over the world. Almost everyone knows someone who has had it, died from it, survived it, or contracted it themselves. Over 1.3 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer all over the world each year and every year 500,000 die from it.[1] Excluding cancers of the skin, breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer for women, accounting for nearly 1 in 3 cancers diagnosed in women in the USA[2]

Breast cancer occurs when the normal process of cell division and DNA copying in a particular area of the breast is disrupted. The cells mutate and begin to reproduce or die off in ways, which are not normal, often producing a lump called a tumor. Some tumors are benign, and just sit there doing nothing and not harming the body, but many become malignant and develop into what we call cancer. The cancer can then spread to other parts of the body like the lungs or lymph nodes under the arm pits and even result in death.[3]

At this time, there is no guaranteed bullet-proof method to prevent breast cancer, however there are many ways in which women can reduce their risk. Here is by no means an exhaustive list, but my personal top five:

1: Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Losing weight if you are obese, and keeping it off, is one of the most effective ways to fight all forms of cancer. Even losing a small amount of weight can significantly reduce inflammation in the body and decrease your risk of developing cancer. This, of course, is tied in to a whole lifestyle change which includes being physically active and making healthy eating choices. Though the American Cancer Society (ACS) has stated that there is no direct link between eating any particular food (fats included) and cancer risk, eating healthy food is an obvious and scientifically proven way to maintain good overall health, particularly foods high in antioxidants. This will also therefore indirectly decrease your risk of developing breast cancer. The ACS also states that; “Growing evidence supports a modest protective effect of physical activity on breast cancer risk… The underlying mechanism of this potential protection is not well understood, although it has been hypothesized that the benefit may be due to the effects of physical activity on body mass, hormones  and energy balance.”[4] This means that physical activity is important even if you are not already overweight because it helps balance energy and hormones, two of the key elements to preventing cancer development.

2: Avoid hormonal treatments (including hormonal contraceptives)
According to the ACS, “Reproductive hormones are thought to influence breast cancer risk by increasing cell proliferation, thereby increasing the likelihood of DNA damage, as well as promotion of cancer growth… Recent use of menopausal hormones (previously referred to as hormone replacement therapy [HRT] or menopausal hormone therapy) with combined estrogen and progestin increases the risk of developing and dying from breast cancer, with higher risk associated with longer use.”[5] Hormone-based contraceptives pose a similar problem. According to the National Cancer Institute (USA), “A number of studies suggest that current use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) appears to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women.”[6] They state that the risk goes down after about 10 years of discontinued use, but that is kind of a long time. If you should need one, consider using one of the many other non-hormonal contraceptives out there. For young and old alike, the evidence is clear: taking pills that interfere with your normal hormonal patterns can put you at increased risk for cancer.

3: Have many children and start young
Here is one that you will not hear breast cancer awareness and prevention advocates preaching these days, despite the fact that it is scientifically proven! According to the ACS, “Much of the historic increase in breast cancer incidence reflects changes in reproductive patterns, such as delayed childbearing and having fewer children, which are recognized risk factors for breast cancer.”[7] Furthermore, they state that “Younger age at first full-term pregnancy (<30 years) and a greater number of pregnancies decrease the risk of breast cancer over the long term; however, there also appears to be a transient increase in breast cancer risk following a full-term pregnancy, particularly among women who have a first birth at older ages.”[8] In other words, having many babies and starting young will actually decrease your risk of breast cancer.

4: Breastfeed your babies
Studies have shown that women who breastfeed are statistically less likely to develop breast cancer than those who do not. In case you needed a scientifically verified reason to nurse your children up to two years as it states in the Qur’an, it has been found that breast cancer risk also decreases with the length of breastfeeding. And the most significant risk is for those who stop before the child reaches one year of age.

5: Make your night for sleeping
For another surprise, getting your zzz’s at night can also lower your risk. The ACS states that “some researchers suggest that an increased risk of breast cancer may be due to decreases in melatonin levels that occur as a result of exposure to light at night; melatonin may affect estrogen levels, as well as act as a tumor suppressor. Based on the results of studies in humans and experimental animals, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded in 2007 that shift work, particularly at night, was probably carcinogenic to humans.[9] If the ACS can publish the fact that shift work at night is “probably carcinogenic to humans”, it probably is. Make your night for sleeping and try as much as possible to give yourself at least eight hours of uninterrupted darkness.

I hope that this list has been inspiring and useful, or at least eye-opening. May you all find in it some benefit and a means to improve your health. Ameen.

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References:
[1] Global Cancer Facts and Figures: Second Edition. Report. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2011. p. 1
[2] Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2011-2012. Report. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2011. p. 2
[3] "What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer." National Cancer Institute. September 26, 2012. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/breast/page3
[4] Breast Cancer Facts and Figures (2011) p. 16
[5] Breast Cancer Facts and Figures (2011) p. 14
[6] "Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk." National Cancer Institute. March 21, 2012. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/oral-contraceptives.
[7] Breast Cancer Facts and Figures (2011) p. 14
[8] Breast Cancer Facts and Figures (2011) p. 14
[9] Breast Cancer Facts and Figures (2011) p. 12
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