Beyond Breast Cancer Awareness

A look at prevention 365 days a year

It’s time to lavish your pink frocks, flaunt that cotton candy boa, showoff those fuchsia stilettos and sport your cherry blossom bustier! Call all your BFFs as it’s October and that means Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

For almost 30 years, a kaleidoscope of pink ribbon has been the international color reminding women of the importance of early detection. The power of pink inspires young and old to take control of their health by practicing breast self-care, scheduling annual screenings, and learning as much as possible about early detection. A marathon of events raises money for research, educates the public, and focuses attention on the most common cancer among American women after skin cancer.

Breast Cancer Awareness is just one month a year; however, the reality for more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the United States is that breast cancer is relentless. As persistent as the disease, so too should be our determination to practice prevention 365 days a year.

When considering prevention, understanding the risk factors for developing breast cancer is the first line of defense. Certain risk factors such as sex, age, family history, early menarche, and late menopause cannot be changed, while lifestyle related risk factors including postmenopausal obesity, diet, alcohol consumption, and inactivity are modifiable, or within one’s ability to alter.

Obesity and weight: Research from the Susan G. Komen Foundation (SGKF) emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy weight when it comes to breast cancer. Specifically, being obese or overweight after menopause may increase breast cancer risk by as much as 30-60 percent. The same study showed that women losing as little as four to 11 pounds following menopause had more than a 20 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to those whose weight did not change.

Diet: Consuming a balanced diet is the cornerstone to weight management. Much research has touted the importance of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients related to cancer prevention. Although the evidence remains inconclusive, what is important is the role these nutrients play in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Consider the nutritional punch of heavy hitters like cruciferous and dark, leafy green vegetables including spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Powerful antioxidants prevent and repair free radical damage. So enjoy a bounty of fruits including citrus, berries, and cherries. Round-out your diet with nutrient and fiber-rich whole grains such as oats, barley, bulgur, and corn, as well as legumes such as dried beans and peas, lentils and soybeans.

According to the SGKF, diets high in saturated fat may increase breast cancer risk, whereas a diet high in monounsaturated fat may lower breast cancer risk. Thus, fatty meats, high fat dairy products, butter and many baked goods should be limited or avoided. Monounsaturated fats include olive, canola, sesame or peanut oils, avocados, peanut butter, and some nuts/seeds—all of which have additional health benefits of reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Alcohol: A daily glass of red wine boasts heart-healthy benefits, but that is not so with breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), numerous studies confirm that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women by seven to 12 percent for each 10g (roughly one drink) of alcohol consumed per day. In general, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer. SKGF emphasized the importance of folic acid to offset the risk associated with alcohol consumption. Luckily, folic acid is found in those cruciferous and dark, leafy green vegetables, oranges, and fortified breakfast cereal; yet another benefit of healthy eating.

Physical Activity: Exercise is vital to maintaining a healthy weight and the benefits are insurmountable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), daily physical activity has the power of protection! Just 30 minutes a day, totaling 150 minutes a week, can protect against heart disease, diabetes, many cancers, and much more. However, researchers from the ACS has found that walking at least seven hours per week at a pace of three miles per hour is associated with a 14 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, compared to those who walked three or fewer hours per week. The most active women who walked and did more vigorous exercise had a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to the least active.

Go beyond Breast Cancer Awareness. Ignite the power of pink with uncompromising weight management, a nutrient-rich diet, and a sufficient dose of daily exercise. Be relentless… just like breast cancer… and pursue prevention 365 days a year!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Debbie Zimmerman is Wellness Manager for the Polk County School Board, the 31st largest school district in the nation.  She holds a Master’s of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Care Administration, both from St. Leo University.  She has more than 25 years of experience in health promotion and disease prevention program management.  Debbie is a motivational Wellness/Health and Lifestyle Coach, Personal Trainer, and Sports Nutrition Specialist.  Debbie is also a Building a Healthier Polk Initiative member, a division of Polk Vision.  For more information on the Building a Healthier Polk initiative, visit  You can also find them on Twitter at @HealthierPolk and on Facebook.


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