What a day for the EIF Revlon Walk! Clear blue sky, warm weather and 30,000 women walking 3 miles at 9 am on a Saturday morning – the strong, positive energy was exhilarating! The cause is a worthy one; worldwide, breast cancer is the number one cancer risk for women. Being in such a part of such a large group and seeing countless signs of “In memory of…” or “In support of…” makes one realize, in a very real way, how many lives are touched by cancer.
Know Your Risks
Prevention is real. All women should be aware of the behaviors that increase risk: cigarette smoke (including passive exposure), drinking alcohol, excess weight (post menopausal), and sedentary behavior. If you smoke, stop. Discuss quitting with your physician; there are new, effective interventions to help you stop. Watch your alcohol consumption. The Million Women Study found that even light or moderate drinking increased a woman’s risk for cancer of thse breast, mouth/pharynx, liver, colon and ovary.
Weight – Why excess weight increases cancer risk
According to a large study (over 70,000 women) presented at the American Association for Cancer Research, women who gained one pound per year after age 20 doubled their risk for breast cancer. Fat cells produce estrogen, which stimulate breast cells. High levels of estrogen after menopause raise the risk for breast cancer. Additionally, weight gained after menopause is stored abdominally, an unnatural pattern of female fat storage. The immune system is activated by abdominal fat, white blood cells engulf the foreign fat, transforming them into "foam cells" and an inflammatory state is produced. Inflammation is a cancer promoting condition.
Low levels of physical exercise are independently associated with risk for cancer. Additionally, inactivity causes weight gain which, in turn, is associated with increased cancer risk. Sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased belly fat.
How do we reduce our risks?
- Maintain a normal BMI and waist size less than 35”. Make it a priority to eat natural foods, avoid processed food. Include fresh vegetables and fruits into meals. For those on a budget: discount stores (Costco, Trader Vics, etc.), community gardens, or frozen vegetables are inexpensive. City dwellers: tomatoes grow like crazy in pots, if you have a sunny spot in your apartment. A friend of mine, a judge in NYC, fills his kitchen with fresh tomatoes all summer from his window sill garden. Cook in quantity on the weekends – don’t rely on fast food or ordering in. Back to the WW II slogan, “A chicken in every pot!” There are three foods that you should make part of your daily diet: Berries, leafy green vegetables, and yogurt.
- Exercise daily! Exercise is protective against colon, postmenopausal breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Physical exercise increases insulin sensitivity, so the body doesn’t need to produce huge quantities of it. The body operates more efficiently. Exercise reduces belly fat, independently of weight. Higher levels of exercise are associated with lower levels of estrogen in postmenopausal women. Exercise strengthens the immune system. Daily exercise is the key. How much exercise do we need? New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that older women need at least one hour of moderate activity a day to maintain a healthy weight. But be consistent and do not let one day pass without giving your body the exercise it needs.
- Vitamin D is protective against cancers of the colon and breast. Take a vitamin D supplement: I recommend 1,000 iu/ day. (A multiple vitamin pill does not supply enough.) We need to take a vitamin D supplement because we normally make it from sunlight hitting the skin.