breast cancer

Bring Attention to your Breasts

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is in October and it’s a great way to spread important messages about breast cancer prevention and treatment. Still, as women it is important to keep breast health on your mind all year.

By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

When you look at your breasts what are you analyzing? Their size, shape, how they look in your work clothes? Whatever it is make sure you’re also thinking about what you can do to prevent breast cancer – a disease that affects 1 in 9 women in Canada each year.1   

Knowing Your Risks

There is no single cause of breast cancer, with researchers suggesting that it is a result of both genetics and lifestyle factors.2, 3 

When assessing your risk for breast cancer, there are numerous indicators to take into consideration – which include those you can control (modifiable) and those you cannot control (non-modifiable).3

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors:  Some of these include your family and personal history of cancer, gender and your age.3 A complete list can be found by clicking the following link:

Although you cannot control these risk factors, by acknowledging them you may be able to better prevent breast cancer by focusing on the modifiable risk factors you can control.  

Modifiable Risk Factors:  These are some of the lifestyle factors that are taken into consideration when determining your breast cancer risk.3 

Body Weight:  Research indicates that if you have a healthy body weight you are at lower risk of developing breast cancer. This is because estrogen, a hormone that in excess can increase your risk of breast cancer, is produced in fat cells.4 If you have less fat cells, you will have less production of estrogen, which lowers your risk.4

Physical Activity: There is a correlation where women who are physically active are less likely to have breast cancer by almost 25-30%.5 This may be a cumulative result of living a healthy active life (no smoking, good nutrition, etc.).5 Whatever the reason, incorporating physical activity into your life is a great step to prevent so many diseases beyond cancer. It is highly recommended that adults get between 30-60 minutes of physical activity per day.5 

Smoking & Alcohol:  These are both carcinogenic, which means poisons that can cause cancer in our body. When you smoke or drink alcohol, you are essentially giving your body the task of fighting the toxins that you are consuming.6, 7 Also, second hand smoke has been found to increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, especially when exposed during adolescence.6  

A fact that may alarm some people is that the breasts are among the most sensitive parts in the human body to the cancer causing toxins found in alcohol.

This makes it EXTREMELY important to limit your alcohol intake and quit smoking.

Other modifiable risk factors include: hormone exposure, radiation exposure, your age at pregnancy, and choice to breastfeed.


Eating a healthy diet is always an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to preventing diseases, including cancers. Although how specific foods and nutrients impact breast cancer risk is still inconclusive, it is recommended to eat a balanced diet according to Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.8,9 This includes eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, limiting red meat consumption and high calorie foods and beverages.8,9  

Checkups and Self-examination

Once you know how to prevent the risk factors associated with breast cancer, it is important to recognize that if you do have a situation where you may have a lump in your breast – the earlier the detection the better the outlook and treatment options. This makes it essential for you to have regularly scheduled checkups with your physician and mammograms. It is recommended that women begin getting mammograms every 1-2 years starting at the age of 40.10 This exam helps detect tumors that may be too small to feel.10 Self-examination is also important and is something you can do at home every month. The following link provides you with instructions from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation on how to conduct a monthly Breast Self-Exam.


  1. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). Breast Cancer in Canada, 2013. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  2. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). What Causes Breast Cancer? Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  3. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). Breast Cancer Risk Factors. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  4. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). Being a Healthier Body Weight. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  5. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). Being Physically Active. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  6. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). Butting out breast health. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  7. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). Less Alcohol is good for your breast health. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  8. Canadian Cancer Society. (2013). Nutrition & Breast Cancer. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  9. Eat Right Ontario. (2013). Take steps to help prevent breast cancer. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from
  10. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2013). Screening by mammography. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from

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