This week, firefighters and emergency personnel across Fairfax County will wear pink shirts to raise awareness about breast cancer.
October marks the 28th annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In addition to joining our local first responders in wearing pink to raise awareness, you might be able to find help fighting breast cancer and other types of cancers at your local grocery store and fitness centers, according to Dr. Marian Neuhouser, Ph.D, RD.
Neuhouser is a nutritional epidemiologist with a background in nutritional sciences. She is an investigator at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Her research is focused on lifestyle factors such as nutrition and physical activity. Some factors may prevent breast and prostate cancer and improve survivorship in those diagnosed with cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, more than 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 American women will die from breast cancer.
Neuhouser’s research has found that for postmenopausal women in particular, being overweight or obese may increase the risk for breast cancer.
“After menopause, estrogens are synthesized by adipose tissue—the more adipose a woman has, the more estrogen she will make," she said. "Adipose cells also synthesize inflammatory factors, which have been linked to breast cancer.”
One of the most important things a woman at risk for breast cancer can do, is to maintain a healthy weight, says Neuhouser.
“One of the most important things is that if a woman is overweight or obese, she should be advised to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight," she said. "Daily physical activity and following healthy eating habits with plentiful fruits and vegetables and minimal empty calories and fried foods will help achieve these goals.”
Neuhouser says while it can be challenging to lose weight, “Small changes can add up and make a big difference."
When it comes to getting active, Neuhouser says, "If someone is not used to physical activity, try a five to ten minute walk and gradually increase the time. Having physical activity partners or walking partners always helps. I know my soccer team will be waiting for me on the field, so even if I am tired or busy, I still show up."
There is no shortage of parks and walking trails across Fairfax County—look up your local parks and park activities through the Fairfax County Park Authority website. As the weather turns cooler, you may join one of the many local RECenters for indoor exercise classes, groups and resources.
You may consider setting a goal for yourself for motivation, like participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in May in Washington, D.C.
Hundreds of area residents will be walking in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk in Washington on Oct. 12 - 14. The 3-day, 60-mile walk usually requires some training and preparation; registration will open later this fall for next year's walk (scheduled for Oct. 11 - 13, 2013).
When it comes to food, Neuhouser says, "Start with making one new food change each week. Instead of eating two cookies, eat just one.”
If you are concerned about your weight, Neuhouser suggests getting the support you need by asking your doctor for a referral to a reputable weight loss program. For nutrition advice, Neuhouser recommends asking your personal physician for a referral to a registered dietitian.