6 Ways to Be Your Own Breast Cancer Advocate

Become your own breast cancer advocate by taking these six simple steps toward better breast health.

By Bari Nan Cohen

1. Get your mammogram, already!

"All the research in the world can’t replace what we already have in place, which is early detection," says Beth DuPree, MD, breast surgeon and author of The Healing Consciousness: A Doctor’s Journey to Healing (Wovenword Press). "Women who get screened every year have a 45 to 50 percent lower death rate from breast cancer than women who don’t."

2. Dust off your treadmill, or just go for a walk.

Four of our experts — both from the science arena and the medical practice fields — touted healthy diet and exercise as the most important lifestyle changes that will reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. "Most studies show that if you’re physically active you are less likely to develop breast cancer," says Marilie Gammon, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. "You don’t have to be a marathoner: maybe 4 hours per week of physical activity. Even a walk is good." A statistic that might motivate you to move: "If you gain more than 60 pounds after the age of 18, you increase your cancer risk, period," says Susan Love, MD, author of Dr Susan Love’s Breast Book, 4th Revised Edition (Da Capo Lifelong Books).

3. De-stress your life as much as you can.

"There are cultures like the Okinawans that have a 40 to 45 percent less incidence of breast and prostate cancer. They eat well and they take time for themselves; they meditate and they exercise every day," says DuPree. "Now, that’s not rocket science but in this country it becomes rocket science." And developing countries may give us even more clues. In Nigeria, the faster the economy grows, the more the population tries to keep up with it, the more stress they have in their lives. "I think this is a factor in why our cancer rates have grown," says Princess Nikky Onyeri, founder of the Princess Nikky Breast Cancer Foundation.

4. Think: good for the earth, good for you.

While there isn’t a ton of proof yet that the environment impacts breast cancer risk, there are plenty of indicators, and the scientists, advocates, and doctors we spoke with all agreed that the better care we take of our environment, the better chance we have at long-term health.

5. Participate in studies.

Doing your part for your own health could also do something for the health of millions of women. "We are looking for volunteers for our research," says Dr. Love. "If you participate, you can potentially help solve the puzzle."

6. Get in touch with your legislators.

"We need to get the public up in arms about the fact that people are dying because they don’t have access to the healthcare that’s out there," says Fran Visco, President of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. "It’s going to take a change in the public’s understanding of what’s needed — and a change in the political will to get it there."

Originally published on MORE.com, October 2006.

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