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Living for Breast Health
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women with over 23,800 diagnosed each year and incidence rates expected to rise. In Canada, screening for breast cancer is recommended for women between the ages of 50-69, though many are now taking preventative screening measures as early as 40. Despite being viewed as a women’s disease, men can also develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. In 2013, it is estimated that 200 men were diagnosed with breast cancer (Canadian Cancer Society, 2013). Men are usually diagnosed later in life around the age of 68 with more advanced stages of breast cancer.
Research has found that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to breast cancer development. Changes in lifestyle through proper diet and physical activity and having a strong social support network help at all stages of the cancer prevention process.
Moderate Alcohol intake
Moderating your intake of alcohol, regardless of whether it is a beer, vodka, a Bellini or a mudslide will help reduce your risk for breast cancer. Research has found that the ethanol in alcohol is a known carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance), not to mention, alcohol is also an easy form of liquid calories that can add to your weight gain. It is recommended that women drink alcohol occasionally and not on a daily basis. Studies have found that having 1 drink a day may increase a women’s relative risk of breast cancer by up to 13% (Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, 2013).
Vegetables, Fruits and Whole Grains
Aim for a balanced diet and consume all foods in moderation, with more emphasis on vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Vegetables and fruits contain a lot of phytochemicals (compounds that occur naturally in plants) with antioxidant, antiestrogen and chemopreventative properties that may help in cancer prevention. According to Johns Hopkins University, cruciferous vegetables like brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale are rich in phytochemicals that can be beneficial for breast cancer prevention. Whole grains, which are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals have also been found to have a positive effect on breast cancer health by altering hormonal actions to cancer development. Aim to include insoluble and soluble fiber (25–35 grams per day) as part of your healthy diet.
Meat, Dairy and Processed Foods
Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy, and foods with overall lower saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and sugar content. Your fat intake should be less than 30% of your daily calories (The Johns Hopkins University, 2013). This can help you maintain a healthier body weight and waist circumference, all important factors to reducing your risk for breast cancer. According to Health Canada, individuals under 65 years of age should aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 to 25 and those 65+ years of age should aim for a BMI of 20-27. BMI goals should be taken into consideration with Waist Circumference (WC), which measures abdominal fat. A circumference at or above 102 cm for men and 88 cm or more for women (which generally indicates excess fat around the waist and upper body) has been associated with higher risk for health complications (Health Canada, 2011). Such weight goals can be best achieved by following a healthier diet and eliminating bad habits like smoking. Choose foods with less processing. This means minimizing your intake of smoked, pickled and cured foods. Generally speaking, the fewer the ingredients listed on a packaged item, the better.
At this point, there is no conclusive evidence that specific foods are responsible for breast cancer prevention, but rather a combination of healthy choices that help in the management of this disease. Below is a chart with potential cancer fighting foods adapted from Johns Hopkins University (2013) that have been found in research to have some cancer preventative properties. A combination of these foods in the diet, coupled with healthy physical activity and habits can help you in the prevention, healing and recovery process.
|Isothiocyanates||Mustard, horseradish, cruciferous vegetables|
Garlic, green tea, soybeans, cereal grains, cruciferous (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage),
|Flavanoids|| Most fruits and vegetables (cruciferous, garlic, citrus fruits, caraway seeds, umbelliferous, solanaceous,|
cucurbitaceous vegetables, sage, camphor, dill, basil, mint
|Organosulfides||Garlic, onion, leeks, shallots, cruciferous vegetables|
|Isoflavones||Soybeans, legumes, flax seeds|
|Carotenoids||Dark yellow, orange, green vegetables and fruits|
Include Exercise As a Part of Your Day
Physical activity can lower your risk of breast cancer by preventing the occurrence of being overweight and obese. The American Society of Clinical Oncology has also found that engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity helps to reduce inflammation and can regulate hormone levels, while improving the body’s insulin and immune functions. Adults between the ages of 18-64 years of age should aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week (approximately 20 min per day). Those over the ages of 64 should aim for the same amount of physical activity, evenly spaced out through the day with a bit of strength training to maintain muscle and bone function as well as better posture (Health Canada, 2012). Not only will you improve your body on a physical level, but you will also feel refreshed and energized!
With all of these considerations, support groups can be a wonderful way to help you achieve your goals to breast cancer prevention at various stages. There are a variety of support groups, some organized by survivors or those living with breast cancer, while others are facilitated by health care professionals and community centres. Individuals involved with support groups have been found to have higher prevention and survival rates, with participants in support groups living twice as long with better quality of life compared to those without support groups. Such groups can provide you with better access to needed resources and services for better self-management, while creating an open environment of sharing and acceptance that can greatly reduce stress. Support groups have been found to be motivating, creating positive effects of psychological well-being that can leave you feeling empowered and more positive for the future.
1) Canadian Cancer Society – www.cancer.ca
2) Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – www.cbcf.org
3) Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada – www.willow.org
4) Breast Cancer Support Services – www.breastcancersupport.org
5) Public Health Agency of Canada – http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cd-mc/cancer/breast_cancer-cancer_du_sein-eng.php
Rosanna Lee, PHEc., MHSc., BASc. is a nutrition and health expert, a professional home economist and an avid foodie with diverse experiences in healthcare, community nutrition, industry, education, public health and research. Her areas of interest include nutrition education, health promotion and online communications, with specialization in social media. Rosanna’s work has been featured in Huffington Post Canada, Healthy Living Magazine, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, the Canadian Cancer Society and many others. She has a great passion for food, nutrition and health and loves to share and learn! Got more questions? Email at [email protected] or call at 647-889-8854.