BOISE, Idaho — October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The annual campaign--and its signature pink ribbon--aims to increase awareness of the disease, as well as honor survivors and current patients, support research, and offer education.
According to St. Luke's Dr. Rhiana Menen, about 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, making it incredibly common. Dr. Menen stresses despite the high occurrence, it's also incredibly treatable--if you're keeping up with your regular preventative care.
"What I tell women is that I don't have x-ray vision in my fingers and so one of the best ways we can be really effective at treating breast cancer is catching it early," she explains. "For breast cancer awareness month, if you're due for your mammogram, get it."
Dr. Menen says when she's meeting with patients, there are a few basics she reminds them all of whether it's before, during, or after a breast cancer diagnosis.
"The first one is really diet. About 30 to 40% of all cancers are associated with an unhealthy diet, and so I really advocate for more of a plant-based diet. That doesn't mean everybody needs to go out and become a vegetarian or vegan, but it's really about what we add in. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables. Nuts, especially raw tree nuts, and then whole grains."
Dr. Menen encourages patients to avoid processed meats, processed sugars, and similar foods. She explains that maintaining a healthy diet is linked to avoiding another potential risk factor: obesity.
"About 1 in 3 people in the U.S. is considered obese, and we can't just exercise our way out of this. About 80% of obesity is linked to diet with only 20% linked to exercise so really avoiding those high calorie, cheap foods like sodas and added sugar are a great way to avoid breast cancer."
Dr. Menen also says look at decreasing your alcohol consumption as another component of preventative care.
"There's a lot of emerging evidence about how dangerous alcohol is in breast cancer so even just three drinks a week increases your risk of breast cancer by about 15%, and none of us think that's considered heavy drinking so really trying to cut down on the amount of alcohol that we use. That doesn't mean none, but that's a pattern over time."
Another tip is making sure to make time for exercise. Dr. Menen says even just three to five hours of walking each week can help in breast cancer prevention.
Adding in exercise time could also help you with another way to lower your risk: getting enough sleep.
"If we all just get more sleep, that's associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer," says Dr. Menen.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospitals and clinics have noted a decrease in appointments, but Dr. Menen encourages everyone to schedule an appointment as soon as possible and make their health a priority.
"We're back to our regular screening schedule. That may change with the pandemic, but go ahead and get out there and schedule your mammogram," she says.
Coming up Wednesday, October 14 at 6:30 p.m., Idaho News 6 anchor Karen Lehr will moderate a live town hall with a panel of local medical experts to answer your questions about breast cancer. You can find the town hall on the Idaho News 6 Facebook page.