Five habits that will help keep your breasts healthy

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Dr. William Burak Jr.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, and 1 out of 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

These statistics are pretty alarming, but luckily a few lifestyle changes can help keep your breasts in tip-top shape and lower your risk of breast cancer. Here are five habits to adopt that will help keep your breasts healthy.

1. Stick to one drink at happy hour. While moderate drinking (for women, one drink per day) might provide health benefits like a reduced risk of heart disease, more than that could affect your breast health. Booze might not only damage DNA in cells, increasing your risk, but regularly overdoing it bumps up your risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

If you drink alcohol, it is recommended that you consume less than one drink per day. Increased alcohol consumption raises your risk of breast cancer.

At your next happy hour, instead of a second glass of wine, reach for soda water with lime. Remember, one drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

2. Squeeze in a 30-minute workout. Women who are overweight or obese - indicated by a body mass index (BMI) above 25 - have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause. Being overweight can also increase a woman's risk for breast cancer recurrence.

Why the increased risk? Fat cells produce estrogen, which can trigger the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.

The recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Be sure to add regular resistance training, as well. It goes without saying that maintaining a healthy weight begins with a healthy diet.

3. Ditch the cigarettes. Heavy smoking increases your risk for lung and mouth cancers, but studies suggest that it might up your risk for breast cancer too, especially if you started the habit before having your first child.

Experts are also looking into secondhand smoke and breast cancer risk.

4. Choose fish instead of steak. Women who eat more red meat (one and a half servings a day) have a 22% higher risk of breast cancer than those who only eat one serving a week, according to a study that followed 89,000 women over 20 years.

The study, which was published in the BMJ medical journal, also found that replacing one serving of red meat per day with poultry reduces breast cancer risk by 17%. Instead of red meat, opt for fish, lean protein and nuts.

5. Do self-breast exams. Women should do a self-breast exam once a month to learn what their breasts feel and look like. If you detect a firm mass or something that is stuck in place, a mass that is getting bigger, or if the skin over it changes, have it evaluated.

Your risk increases with age, starting in your 40s. Various organizations offer differing guidelines on the frequency of mammograms and when they should start. Consult with your healthcare provider for what's right for you.

Dr. William Burak Jr. is a breast surgeon at Memorial Health and sees patients in Savannah and Bluffton. MemorialHealth Doctors.com/BreastCare.

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