People living with conditions that challenge their day-in and day-out routines may be more vigilant than others about taking care of their health--paying attention to their lifestyle and what they put into their bodies can be a matter of life or death. The truth is, everybody--regardless of the kind of “healthy” you are starting with--needs to be on the lookout to maintain their lives in a way that gives them the best chance at living a life that feels good and is sustainable.
Cancer has become a major menace and source of heartbreak for people worldwide. First, we discuss breast cancer and begin with some sobering statistics. Women have a one in eight lifetime risk of getting breast cancer, and, to answer a question we get asked often, using birth control does not increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer in any significant way. Patients often feel if they do not have a family history of breast cancer, they are somehow unlikely to develop the disease. Unfortunately, genetically linked disease only accounts for twenty percent of breast cancer patients.
Far more influential is keeping fit and healthy. For every five kilograms a woman gains, her risk for breast cancer increases twelve percent, and for every ten centimeters a woman gains in waist circumference, her risk for breast cancer goes up six percent. Do not underestimate the importance of treating your body well. Exercise is next--but you knew that, right? Increased weight increases insulin, estrogen, and inflammation, which all decrease apoptosis and alter macrophages. Exercise can reduce all these risk factors.
A few other facts to keep in mind: breastfeeding decreases breast cancer risk and consuming alcohol increases breast cancer risk. We also have some preliminary research on diet. Consuming a high calcium diet and dairy products might decrease the risk of premenopausal breast cancer. Eating foods with carotenoids may decrease the risk of breast cancer as might eating more non-starchy vegetables.
Less commonly on women’s minds, but also very prevalent, is colon cancer. Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. Colon cancer screening now starts at age 45 (down from age 50). Make sure you talk to your doctor about options for screening. Colonoscopy is recommended every ten years, but there are less invasive options such as at-home stool sample kits: use one every three years, then mail your kit in. As with breast cancer risk reduction, genetics is one factor, but decreasing your chances of getting colon cancer also relates to eating a healthy diet and regularly exercising.
We do not yet have practical, widely available ways to alter our genetic makeup, but we can control lifestyle factors that reduce our risks for breast and colon cancer.
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