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What everyone should know about breast cancer

After struggling with breast cancer for three years, my mother walked the survivors lap in her local Relay for Life with my grandmother. They both were able to beat breast cancer, which makes them luckier than many other women.

May is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but as a woman with breast cancer in her family, I’m constantly aware of the risks that I face in my future.

Over the last two years, I’ve been learning all I can about breast cancer, how to prevent it and what causes it. Don’t think that just because you don’t have a history of breast cancer in your family that you’re not at risk. You are. Every woman is at risk. The lifetime risk of any woman getting breast cancer is 12 percent. Of course there are factors that increase your risk. Even without considering these factors, one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her life.

The factors that increase your risks are age, ethnicity, hormone levels and genetics. According to “The Breast Cancer Prevention Cookbook” by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Vincent Connelly, women younger than 30 have a slim chance of getting breast cancer. At age 40 the odds increase to one in 217, and over age 50, the odds are one in 50.

As for ethnicity risk factors, Native Americans and Asians have lower rates. According to the National Cancer Institute, African American women have a higher incidence rate than whites and also have a higher mortality rate.

Hormone levels have to do with how long a woman is exposed to estrogen throughout her lifetime. Women who start their period earlier and go through menopause later are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. This is because the tissue in the breast is very sensitive to estrogen. The longer the tissue is exposed to it, the more likely the tissue is to become dense.

The last factor is genetics. According to Connelly and Dr. Ricciotti, about 10 percent of women with breast cancer have strong genetic ties. Most of these cases come from the mutation genes BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Believe me, I’m not saying all of this to scare anyone. We’re actually to be lucky to have had such great medical advances and breakthroughs in technology to keep breast cancer in our control. The best thing to do is to get regular mammograms, regardless of how unpleasant they are. Also, if you’re younger and are worried about your risks of breast cancer, there is a test that you can have to check for the BRCA genes. Just ask your doctor about it.

If you’re not interested in doing either these, something you can do is keep yourself as physically healthy as possible. This includes maintaining a healthy body weight and eating right.

There are some beneficial foods and nutrients to work into your diet to prevent breast cancer. It also should be mentioned that these nutrients are better used through your diet and not by taking a supplement. These foods and nutrients include:
– Olive oil
– Omega-3 fatty acids: You can work omega-3 fatty acids into your diet by increasing the amount of fish that you eat. If you’re not a fishy person, another great way to do this is with flaxseed. You can get flaxseed at your local health food store and you can use it for cooking and baking, (and it actually tastes good). One warning with this is to limit your intake of fish with elevated mercury levels. These include swordfish, fresh tuna and king mackerel. As an added bonus, omega-3 fatty acids also decrease the risk of heart disease.
– Antioxidants: These are good for preventing all kinds of cancers. You probably wouldn’t have to do much or anything at all to work these into your diet. They’re naturally found in many fruits and vegetables (which everyone should be eating daily, right?). There are three sources of antioxidants that are beneficial to decreasing your risks of breast cancer: beta-carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C.
– Beta-carotene can be found in broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, spaghetti squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and watermelon.
– Vitamin E can be found in nuts, peanut butter, vegetable oils, whole grain breads and cereals and wheat germ.
– Vitamin C can be found in cantaloupe, grapefruits, kiwi, oranges, strawberries and tangerines.

Sounds easy enough, right? It’s really not too hard. If you’re worried about how to incorporate these foods into your daily meals, I suggest picking up “The Breast Cancer Prevention Cookbook,” mentioned previously. I really learned a lot from it. And, of course, there’s always the good ole World Wide Web.

So, Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Know that there are preventative measures you can take. Tell a friend, share a recipe, learn something new, enjoy your life. Most of all, take care of yourself!