Tag Archives: women

Don’t forget about breast cancer prevention!

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and many local and national organizations are promoting breast cancer awareness, sharing information about the disease, and celebrating survivors. This month represents the most visible part of a year-round effort to educate about, screen for, and hopefully cure this devastating disease.

Of course, these are all worthy goals that deserve our attention and support. What is often missing are the steps women—especially young women—can take to reduce their risk for, or even prevent, breast cancer.

Approximately 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that around 300,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed and nearly 40,000 women die from this disease each year. Breast cancer can occur in men, but these cases are rare, so the focus is rightfully on women.

Much attention is given to genetic factors that increase the risk of breast cancer. These include certain gene mutations, including BRCA1 and BRCA2, as well as family history. A woman who has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) who has had breast cancer has nearly twice the risk of being diagnosed herself.

Considering that most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history, it is also important to try to reduce other modifiable risk factors. This involves making health behavior changes that are probably familiar to most people. The good news is that these changes can also reduce the risk of other cancers, cardiovascular disease, and most other chronic diseases.

Avoid tobacco use. While the results of studies of smoking and breast cancer are mixed, a conservative interpretation is that smoking may increase the risk. Smoking increases the risk of other cancers, especially lung cancer, as well as heart attack, stroke, and other lung diseases. Not smoking, or quitting now, is among the best health decisions a woman can make.

Consume alcohol in moderation. Women should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day. Women who consume more than two drinks per day increase their risk of breast cancer by 20% over women who don’t drink.

Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight can increase the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women by 30–60%. Excess body fat can alter the levels of estrogen and other hormones. The good news is that losing as little as 10 pounds can reduce this risk.

Be physically active everyday. Regular activity and exercise can lower breast cancer risk by as much as 20%. In addition to helping with weight control, physical activity may lower the level of certain hormones that are associated with breast cancer. The biggest reduction in risk of breast cancer is seen in women who have been active their whole lives, but it is never too late to start.

Eat a healthy diet. The evidence from studies on the effect of diet on breast cancer risk is mixed, and more research is needed. In general, increasing fruit, vegetable, and whole grain intake and reducing red meat is associated with at least some decrease in breast cancer risk. These “healthy” foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and eating more of these foods may lead to weight loss or prevent weight gain with age.

Every woman has a different breast cancer risk based on her unique family history, biology, and lifestyle. But by making some simple health behavior changes, all women can reduce their risk for, or even prevent, breast cancer and improve their overall health.


From awareness to action: Steps to prevent breast cancer.

This is the last week of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Through national and local education efforts we should be aware of the impact that breast cancer has on women and their families as well as steps to diagnose and treat this serious condition. We may also have contributed to events from bake sales to road races to support programs that aim to enhance research and treatment for women (and a few men, too) who are dealing with breast cancer.

Now that the pink ribbons are coming down and the NFL players are taking off their pink socks, it is time to focus on something that didn’t get as much attention over the past month: the prevention of breast cancer. This  is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

It turns out that there is a lot that women, especially young women, can do to prevent breast cancer. The good news is that these steps, including not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise, can also reduce the risk of many other types of cancer as well as other serious health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

The even better news is that these health behaviors can reduce the risk of breast cancer even in women who have a strong family history or other genetic predictors. Furthermore, these lifestyle factors, especially regular exercise, can help women better tolerate treatment and reduce the chance for cancer recurrence.

Unfortunately, breast cancer prevention doesn’t seem to get the same attention as diagnosis and treatment. In fact, a listing of topics on the National Breast Cancer Foundation Breast Cancer Awareness Month web page includes Early Detection, Diagnosis, Stages, Types, Treatment, but not prevention! This isn’t to say that detection and treatment aren’t important, but preventing breast cancer—something that would benefit ALL women—should be part of the conversation.

My Friend Shannon update: The problem with her new pants (but in a good way)

I haven’t given an update for some time, but My Friend Shannon is still going strong on her remodeling project.
I received an email from her recently with the intriguing subject, “Women’s clothes are liars!”  I thought it was worth sharing:
I have a hard time finding jeans that fit me properly.  A few years ago, I discovered that Old Navy jeans are the best fit for my body.  They have 3 different styles, The Sweetheart, The Flirt, The Diva.  The Flirt fit me the best because it was a low waist, fuller thigh, straight leg.  Hate the name, love the fit.  
At the time I think I was a size 10 in most all pants.  But, of course, in Old Navy jeans, I was a size 8.  What really made me mad was that I knew they did it on purpose so women would feel good about being a “smaller size” in their jeans and would keep buying jeans from them.  But even knowing that, I still felt good about being in a size 8.  UGH!
Fast forward to present day.  I went shopping on Labor Day to get some new jeans since my old ones are too big now (Yay!).  I now wear a size 2 Diva.  Divas are narrower in the hips than The Flirts.
Have I lost weight? Yes.  Do I really think I’ve lost enough weight to go from a size 8 Flirt with roomier hip to a size 2 Diva with a narrower hip? Of course not! Women’s clothes lie!!!   But I still felt good so I apparently don’t care if they lie to me as long as they tell me what I want to hear.
Despite appearances to the contrary, this is not a conspiracy on the part of Old Navy to deceive customers into thinking they are a smaller size than they really are. It is actually a conspiracy on the part of most women’s clothing manufacturers to deceive customers into thinking they are a smaller size than they really are. It is called “vanity sizing.” But what seems like a harmless marketing ploy may actually be contributing to weight gain and obesity.
[Proof that vanity sizing has gotten out of control: Some women’s clothing comes in a size 0 or 00. What’s next, negative sizes?]
Imagine that Shannon wears a size 6 jeans. The changes in sizing mean that she could actually gain weight, requiring a larger size (say, an 8). But when she goes to buy new jeans she finds that the old size 8 is now called size 6. Of course Shannon is thrilled that she still wears the same size jeans and her fears of gaining weight were unfounded! In this case, Shannon has lost an important cue—needing to buy larger jeans—that she has gained weight. And missing cues like these allow people to gain weight over time without noticing it.
It could be worse. Some pants can make you fat! Many men’s pants include an expandable waist that allow up to 2 inches (or more, in some cases) of  “stretch.” It is possible that a man could gain several inches around his waist but still wear the same pants size.

My Friend Shannon’s remodeling project update: Lose weight, win jeans!

My Friend Shannon won a pair of jeans recently!
“Today, I am wearing a pair of jeans that I forgot about.  When I bought them, I could barely squeeze into them and get them fastened and then they were so tight, I was horribly uncomfortable.  For the record, they fit much better in the fitting room a couple of years ago, when I was sucking in my stomach for the 30 seconds it took to put the jeans on and look in the mirror and determine that I thought they looked good.
I found out over the weekend that they fit just fine now! YAY”
Okay, so she didn’t exactly win them, but unexpected clothing finds like these are a nice reward.

Proof that My Friend Shannon’s remodeling project is working.

Proof: “I’m starting to get catty remarks from some women about getting skinnier. Ha!!!”

Truth: This kind of “compliment” seems to be unique to women. I don’t think men do this.

Your pants may be making you fat!

It’s true! Many men’s pants—women’s too, I’m told—have an expandable waist with up to 2–3″ of stretch for “comfort” or to “move with you.” Move with you? Are you James Bond?

What this really means is that these pants allow you to expand your waist and still wear the same size pants. That way you can still tell yourself that you wear the same pants size you did in college.

Read more about this, and other ways we miss signals that we are gaining weight, in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard today.

Maybe we have been asking the wrong question. Instead of, “Do these pants make me look fat?” we should ask “Will these pants actually make me fat?”

These pants WILL make you fat!

“Comfort” must be pants-code for fat!