This article is part of a series during National Cancer Prevention Month to provide information about ways to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Previous articles have looked at lifestyle and environmental factors. Today, we’re sharing things that women can do to prevent specific types of cancer that primarily affect them.
In 2015 – 2016, an estimated 98,000 women worldwide developed a type of gynecological cancer (uterus, ovarian, vaginal, and vulvar) or breast cancer, and approximately 31,000 women will die from their cancer within two years after being diagnosed.
The saddest part of these statistics is that some of the factors leading to these cancers are preventable. Here are some things that have been found to lower the risk of developing cancer for in women, according to various studies.
Avoid Cosmetics with Carcinogenic Ingredients
Cosmetics nowadays may advertise many beauty benefits, but unfortunately, many commercial cosmetic formulations contain synthetic ingredients that could raise the risk of developing certain types of cancer in women. Some substances associated with female cancers include:
- Phthalates – usually found in nail polishes and synthetic fragrances
- Talc – found in baby powder and many other cosmetics
- Triclosan – antibacterial agent usually used in cleansers, deodorants and lotions
- Parabens – antibacterial and antifungal agents used in cleansers
- Lead – heavy metal found in some sunscreens, spray hair cosmetics, lipsticks, and foundation
- Butadiene – usually found in spray cosmetic products
It’s best to avoid cosmetics which contain any of these chemicals, and perhaps seek more natural formulations as alternatives. If it’s been awhile since you’ve cleaned out your purse, bathroom cabinet, or makeup kit, perhaps it’s a good time to do it now!
Stay Physically Active
Physical activity has been found to decrease the risk of developing cancer in women, according to several studies. Physical activity and aerobic exercise can greatly boost circulation and oxygenation of the body and lower the risk of developing or dying from breast cancer, in particular.
Note that your activity does not need to be extremely intense – we’re not talking crossfit and marathons here (though if you do those things, that’s great!). Even mild physical activity like jogging, yoga, and stretching exercises performed a few hours a week have been found to be very beneficial.
Breastfeeding isn’t only good for infants, it also offers health benefits to mothers as well. According to some studies, women who breastfeed have a lower the risk of developing breast cancer as opposed to women that don’t breastfeed their babies.
The beneficial breastfeeding effects for both the child and the mother apply to a scope of breastfeeding for over six months. As a general tendency, the more a woman breastfeeds, the less the risk of developing breast cancer.
There are are two vaccines in particular that can help prevent cancer, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccine.
HPV has been associated with a multitude of cancers, including cervical cancer, vaginal, vulvar, and anal cancer, among others. The FDA has approved three different vaccinations to protect against HPV: Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. These are approved for use in girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26 years old. Vaccination usually requires a series of three shots over a period of six months.
HBV can lead to liver cancer, and while it’s not specific to women, it is important to know that HBV can be passed from mothers to their infants. Since it was developed in 1981, the HBV vaccine has been given to most children soon after birth, so if you were born after that date, you probably have already received the vaccine. If you were born before 1981, however, you may want to check your immunization records.
Eat Probiotics and Prebiotics
A healthy diet that is rich in probiotics and prebiotics (e.g., fiber) has been shown in some studies to lower the risk of cancer in women. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are naturally found in live yogurt varieties, kefir, and fermented veggies, while prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria, are found in vegetables and fruit.
A diet rich in antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E has also shown some promising effects in lowering the risk of cancer in females. On the other hand, a diet rich in processed substances, trans fats, and sugar has been associated with higher cancer rates in women.
Limit Birth Control Pills after Age 35
A number of studies conducted over the last 25 years have found a possible link between birth control pills and an increased risk of developing breast cancer, especially in women age 35 and older who have taken contraceptive pills for many years.
One possible explanation is that contraceptive pills disturb the natural hormonal balance in older women. In younger women, no significant risk was found, but it’s still recommended to consult a gynecologist for possible risks, especially if there is a history of cancer in the family.
For safer birth control alternatives after age 35, talk with your gynecologist.
Check Breast Implants
Older generations of breast implants were made from harsh synthetic material and have been linked with increased inflammation responses and breast cancer risk. The newest generation of breast implants are typically safer but there is still a risk of developing cancer, especially in women with family history of breast cancer.
Whether you have received a breast implant for cosmetic reasons or in response to a medical procedure, such as a mastectomy, it is a good idea to undergo annual checkups to detect any possible precancerous cells.