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- Lifestyle risk factors are behaviours or habits that effect (increase or decrease) the chances of getting breast cancer. Fortunately, we can decrease risk by changing our behaviour.
- Changing our behaviour or lifestyle is often much harder than it sounds. Change can be a very difficult process; especially when people are struggling with day-to-day challenges, like financial difficulties or systemic racism.
- While we can try our best to push for changes at the systems level that will allow people to better reach their optimal health, below are some lifestyle factors to also keep in mind that can reduce your personal risk of breast cancer.
- Lack of physical activity has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. It can also increase your risk of obesity, which may be associated with greater risk of breast cancer.
- It is recommended to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, like a brisk walk, or walking as if you are late to something!
- Alcohol has been linked to an increase in estrogen levels and can reduce folate in our bodies, which helps to protect us from cell damage.
- Having just over one drink a day can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. This risk goes up as the number of drinks you have each day increases.
- For women who drink alcohol, reducing your intake to less than 1 glass a day can help to greatly reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. See the Canadian Cancer Society’s 10 smart ways to limit alcohol here.
- According to a recent study, the ingredients in some chemical straightening products (semi-permanent straighteners or relaxers) and permanent hair dye commonly used by Black women may play a role in breast cancer development for women with a family history.12 These products contain ingredients like endocrine-disrupting chemicals and carcinogens, which are known to activate hormones that may be linked to an increased risk of cancer.
- Even though we do not know for certain if these products cause breast cancer, it is important to keep an eye out for these compounds when buying hair products. The following are just a few to avoid:
- Phthalates (an endocrine-disrupting chemical)
- Formaldehyde (a carcinogen)
- Hair relaxers containing lye
Consider looking into natural Black hair products, or frequently checking your products’ ingredients lists through the following site:
There are signals that a long-term consistent use of relaxers in a subset of women with afro-textured hair reflect an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Hair care is a complex issue of cosmetic chemistry, personal preference, and, unfortunately, societal norms and professional pressures. I encourage every woman, especially those of us with afro-textured hair, to find the hair style that optimizes our hair health, fits our lifestyle and budget, enhances our confidence and our beauty .
Dr. Renée A. Beach, MD, FRCPC, Women’s College Hospital
- To lower your risk of breast cancer, it is recommended that you try to quit smoking, and you should not start if you have never smoked before.
- Even if you have never smoked, being exposed to secondhand smoke may increase your risk of breast cancer.
- See some of the Canadian Cancer Society’s programs and resources to get help quitting.
- Your diet is an important component of reducing your risk of breast cancer.
- Diets that include processed foods and refined carbohydrates increase your body weight and risk of obesity.
- Be sure to incorporate nutrient-dense foods in your diet that you enjoy and are familiar within your culture. Eating healthy should be enjoyable.
- The African Heritage Food Guide is a great resource for health eating based on the traditions of people with African roots and incorporates free recipes from different culinary histories.
- The relationship between stress and breast cancer is not clear, but we do know that stress can weaken your immune system, which protects your body from diseases like cancer. Stress can also change the levels of specific hormones in your body, which may place you at a greater risk of developing cancer.
- Unfortunately, as a result of anti-Black racism in Canada, Black peoples’ everyday lives are negatively impacted in many ways that can lead to higher levels of stress.13
- Self-care is often viewed as consisting of activities that only a few can afford. People tend to think of activities like spa trips and yoga retreats. However, self-care looks different for each person.
- Find what you genuinely enjoy and allocate even a few minutes of time in your routine for your self-care activities to reduce your overall stress levels. Be sure to tap into your community and social networks for support. You can see a list of free culturally relevant mindfulness and stress-reduction resources below:
Vitamin D Intake
- Some studies suggest that Vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increase in risk of breast cancer along with other health illnesses. This is important because research from the U.S. reports that Vitamin D deficiency is more prevalent among African Americans.14
- Vitamin D deficiency is generally more common in people who are melanated or have darker skin, especially in places like Canada where there is little sun in the winter.
- Most Canadians should take 1000 to 2000 IU of Vitamin D per day.