October 2019 Issue
By Rochelle Ringer, MD
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the
United States. Everyone dreads possibly someday hearing the words:
“You have cancer.” There are some things that you can’t control regarding getting breast cancer, but luckily there are things you CAN control.
Women can make choices every day to decrease their breast cancer risk.
So, what are they?
Diet: What we eat matters not just for diabetes and heart disease but also for breast cancer. It’s not rocket science, but it isn’t always easy, or as much fun. Nonetheless, eating a diet of real food and cutting back on meat (especially red meat) can decrease breast cancer risk. Real food means food that comes from the ground or on a plant, not chemicals. If it comes in a box, it’s most likely processed, which isn’t healthy.
Alcohol: Unfortunately, there is data showing that on a routine basis even one glass of alcohol daily slightly increases breast cancer risk. It’s super easy to have a drink a day and not think about it. So, switch to an every other day routine, and you’ll decrease your breast cancer risk.
Exercise: It’s recommended to get 2½ hours of moderate intensity exercise a week. This is also the recommendation to decrease heart disease. If you break this up, it’s 30-minutes a day Monday through Friday.
Genetic Testing: For people who have a strong family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and some other cancers, they may meet criteria for genetic testing. Information is power! If women have a genetic mutation that increases their breast cancer risk, it does not mean they will 100 percent get cancer. Although it may seem drastic, having a double mastectomy makes sense for some women, who have genetic mutations, to lower their breast cancer risk. I recommend talking to your doctor, or seeing a breast surgeon, if you think you might qualify for genetic testing.
Medication: Some women are at increased risk for breast cancer due to family history of atypical cells. In this case, women should meet with a breast specialist to consider taking medication. The same medicines used for breast cancer treatment can also literally prevent cancer. Yes, we have found medicines that literally prevent cancer! Unfortunately, there are no free rides, and these medicines can have some side effects, so women need to talk to a specialist to decide if it’s a good option for them.
Things that DON’T Increase Breast Cancer Risk:
Platinum in deodorant: We don’t have any data that
deodorant causes breast cancer.
Underwire bras: Wearing underwire bras (or not wearing any bra)
does not increase breast cancer risk.
Things that DO increase breast cancer risk:
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Doctors used to think that HRT was a savior medicine for women, preventing heart attacks and keeping them young. Unfortunately, the data shows us this is not true. It doesn’t prevent heart disease, and it does increase breast cancer risk (combined progesterone and estrogen HRT). One of the biggest falls in breast cancer diagnoses in the US was after this data came out and doctors took patients off HRT.
Birth Control Pills: We used to think that birth control pills did not increase breast cancer risk. More recent data out of Scandinavia shows there is a slight increased risk for breast cancer with birth control risk. Birth control has a lot of other advantages, including decreasing ovarian cancer risk and preventing unwanted pregnancies, so for many women the slight increased breast cancer risk is felt to be ok.
Every little bit matters! None of us are perfect, but even small changes can make a difference. An added bonus is a lot of these things will also improve your heart and overall health, too. And luckily, even for women who are found to have breast cancer, the survival rate improves every year due to our ever improving treatments.
Specializing in breast health and surgical oncology in the Lowcountry, Rochelle Ringer, M.D. is a fellowship trained breast surgeon dedicated to caring for patients with breast disease. Dr. Ringer earned her medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine and completed a residency in general surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She went on to complete a breast surgical oncology fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Dr. Ringer is also an Associate Clinical Professor of Surgical Oncology at the Medical University of South Carolina and a member of the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Comprehensive Breast Care Team. She is a member of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and is board certified by the American Board of General Surgery. To learn more or to schedule a mammogram call (843) 836-1600.