The Fear of Breast Cancer – How You Can Help Yourself
Find out what evidence there is that living a healthy lifestyle reduces your risk.
If you have a fear of breast cancer, whether that’s because you have a history of it in the family, have had it before, have a potential symptom that you’re worried about, or are simply concerned that it could happen to you; wouldn’t it be great to know what you could do to help yourself.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my doctor told me that many of his patients, upon hearing the devastating news, tried to pinpoint what they “did” to give themselves cancer. That is an understandable response when the fear of breast cancer suddenly turns into reality.
“If they could blame themselves for what they did ‘wrong,’ it seemed to give them a sense of control again over their body—the body that failed them by developing cancer for no apparent reason,” he said.
However, I completely threw out his advice of avoiding self-recrimination after I finished my year of treatment. After the ordeal of chemo, surgery and radiation, it was hard to avoid as the very real fear of breast cancer recurrence or even secondary breast cancer began to take hold.
I became obsessed with avoiding anything that could possibly ignite my fear of breast cancer and perhaps became somewhat maniacal about doing all “the right things” – whatever I perceived them to be in order to reassure myself that I could in some way prevent the disease. The problem was figuring out exactly what were THE right and wrong lifestyle choices to make.
Should I for example, eliminate red meat from my diet? What about preservatives? What about exercise? But, wait! I know someone who has smoked like a fiend and eaten junk food for years who has had cancer, and has no fear of breast cancer developing for that matter either. Meanwhile, I, the health nut, who juiced every morning and exercised like it was my career, got cancer. So what can I believe? Do our lifestyle choices have any bearing on getting cancer or not?
After talking with Gregg Orloff, Ph.D., who has developed an award-winning web site on the biology of cancer (www.cancerquest.org), the best I can understand is that lifestyle choices do and don’t contribute to cancer, which doesn’t exactly help to quash my fear of breast cancer if I’m honest.
“Of all the environmental and behavioral factors that have been investigated for cancer, only a few have shown a clear link,” Orloff says. “It’s difficult to make hard and fast conclusions about certain activities and their impact on cancer because studies to-date haven’t involved a large enough population or haven’t been conducted for a long enough time period to offer anything definite. The data simply doesn’t exist at this point.”
If you living with a fear of breast cancer take note, the following factors have been known to have an associated risk of cancer
- Smoking— and second-hand smoke is connected to almost all cancers.
- Sun damage —UV rays have been proven to cause skin cancer.
- Diet & Obesity—carries an increased risk of breast and colon cancers. Certain diets can alter the level of growth factors and nutrients (proteins, lipids, sugars) in the blood, which in turn, can stimulate normal cells to become cancerous, or cause existing cancer cells to grow.
- Alcohol—causes stress on the body.
On the other hand, there appear to be certain behaviors that might help reduce your risk or fear of breast cancer.
- Exercise – has been shown to have positive physical and mental benefits
- Diet – a well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables and nuts is also beneficial. Specifically, foods that contain antioxidants, such as leafy green and cruciferous vegetables
The Bottom Line
“There’s no holy grail in that if you do this set of behaviors, you won’t get cancer,” says Orloff.
All we can do to limit our risks is to adopt a healthy lifestyle and not let the fear of breast cancer consume us unnecessarily.