It might have been your mother who first told you she had breast cancer. It could have been a favorite aunt, a grade school teacher or the cashier at your local grocery store.
It doesn’t matter how you found out about the prevalence of breast cancer, which affects an estimated one in eight women nationwide. What matters is early on, you probably had an understanding that a few rogue cells could undeniably touch your life and shape those of the men and women you love.
Each year, researchers begin to understand cancer a little better. We may not be getting a cure any time soon, but there are ways to change your lifestyle and, perhaps, lower your risk of breast cancer – even in your 20s.
Schedule a breast self-exam reminder.
The easiest way to catch a tumor early is by relying on a monthly breast self-exam, to be performed by your or a partner. You can find detailed, free guides about how to perform the short procedure all over the web.
The hardest part isn’t doing the exam, however: it’s remembering.
Thankfully, there are multiple ways to schedule a nudge from your smartphone when that time of the month has arrived. Try a free app like Check Yourself! from the Keep A Breast Foundation, or an emailed reminder from a nonprofit like the Be Aware Foundation.
Learn your family history.
In March, actress Angelina Jolie Pitt published an emotional essay about her decision to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes as a result of a mutated BRCA1 gene that left her at a higher risk of developing a tumor. The weeks after the article's publication brought on a new discussion about the importance of testing for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increase chances of ovarian and breast cancers.
The bottom line: Know what the women in your family have been through before scheduling a doctor's appointment. The National Cancer Institute recommends testing for women whose relatives have suffered from early breast cancer, cancer in both breasts or other rare occurrences.
We may not all have the means to undergo procedures like preventive double mastectomy, but we can be vigilant about professional examinations to ensure we catch the disease as early as possible.
Spend more time eating greens and making gains.
According to the National Cancer Institute, exercise and a healthy diet will do more than just keep you looking good in skinny jeans. It may aid as a preventative measure against cancer. Nutrition and fitness guidelines laid down by the American Cancer Society recommend keeping a lean body weight while chowing down on 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day.
For maximum benefits, plan on spending about 2.5 hours per week jogging or completing some other moderate intensity fitness program.
Limit your vices.
It's not easy to hear, but pastimes like drinking and smoking – even socially – can up your risk for breast cancer. Some research indicates alcohol increases estrogen in the body, according to the American Cancer Society. One 2011 study even indicated it only took three to six glasses of wine per week to up the risk of breast cancer by 15 percent, a statistic that's quite alarming given our boozy lifestyles.
Don't forget that pack of cigarettes, either. In 2014, a research team linked smoking a pack each day for 10 years to an upped risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. Participants were women between the ages of 20 and 44, meaning tobacco's effect takes hold early.
Buy a bra that’ll keep you thinking.
Breast cancer is a trendy cause, pulling in thousands of dollars in merchandise sales and pink ribbons. While the debate about whether companies are just seeking their own profitability continues, many labels still sell breast cancer merchandise. Look for pieces that have been designed with practicality in mind.
For example, Wacoal's Awareness Underwire Bra features a small pink ribbon at its clasp. Aside from being the proud owner of a high-quality bra, you'll also see a daily reminder to check your breasts.