How worried are you about breast cancer for either yourself or for the women in your life? What other cancers scare you most? And do your concerns affect how you live your life every day?
After all the media craziness this past year about Angelina Jolie’svery public decision to undergo preventive surgery, breast cancer is on everyone’s radar like never before. So we at SELF wanted to take the pulse of American women and find out how they feel about cancer these days. We partnered with Bing on an important survey exploring how young women in particular (you don’t have to be older or even high-risk to worry about cancer!) view the disease. Turns out, 71 percent of you are worried about cancer, and breast cancer tops the list.
That was an eye-opener. So first, I’d like to share some information that should help keep that worry in perspective: For women in their 20s and 30s, the risk of cancer is less than 1 percent, even for the most common types.
Whew, right? But that said, you’re not totally wrong to be worried. Unless you’re planning on getting hit by a bus the day you turn 40, your risk will eventually increase as a natural result of the aging process. But we have good news about that, too. Evidence is mounting that shows that in many cases what you do now—simple, painless baby steps—can significantly reduce the risk that you’ll face even after you’re a grandmother. Turns out exercise is one key, in part, because it lowers your levels of estrogen, a hormone that fuels certain types of cancer. In one study of more than 14,000 women, those who were very fit lowered their risk for dying from breast cancer by 55 percent. In another study of more than 9,000 women, regular exercisers had a 20 percent lower risk of getting breast cancer in the first place.
That. Is. Amazing. What’s the point of fretting yourself into a frenzy when working out a few times a week can do so much more for you? So how much exercise do you need? I get asked that all the time! SELF recommends trying to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.
And, as cofounder of the pink ribbon, SELF has even more ways to help you put your worry to work as a way to get empowered. Our new 10-page Women’s Cancer Handbook is an easy-to-read, realistic guide that focuses on getting the cutting-edge data and most up-to-date expert advice to address the questions and concerns you told us you had about breast cancer, as well as the other top cancers women fear: ovarian, cervical, melanoma and lung.
Here’s a taste of some of the facts we’ve found to help you put things in perspective:
• Only 1 in 300 to 500 women are estimated to have a BRCA mutation, like Angelina Jolie.
• Eighty percent of breast lumps turn out notto be cancer.
• Cases of breast cancer among U.S. women decreased by 0.9 percent per year from 2000 to 2009.
• And my personal favorite: If found early, before it’s spread, breast cancer is treatable to a five-year “all clear” status 99 percent of the time. That’s huge.
But that’s just the beginning. We also have answers to the top issues troubling you:
• News for the 36 percent of the more than 1,000 women we surveyed who told us they’re unsure about how to protect themselves: Your first move is understanding your individual risk. Once you know where you stand, you and your doc can figure out what you can do to reduce your lifetime odds by tweaking some everyday lifestyle habits. Things like what you eat, how much you drink and how often you exercise can help your body fend off many kinds of cancer. We give you a researched road map, spelling out the deets on what raises and what reduces your risks.
• Cancer rumor or reality?SELF asked top-notch experts to sort through those throwaway statements you told us you’d heard about cancer and separate the fact from the fiction: “Your cell phone can give you brain cancer.” “Marijuana can cure some kinds of cancers.” “Taking certain herbs and vitamins helps prevent cancer.”
• Is all the so-called bad stuff (bacon!) totally off-limits? Not necessarily!You can safely indulge—slightly!—in bacon and booze without raising your risk of cancer. SELF lets you know what you can do and still live healthily.
• What does Angelina’s choice mean for you? Her personal decision started a national conversation, which we applaud. But how relevant is it for you? SELF helps you determine whether to get genetic testing and how to figure out the right path, based on your individual risk factors.
• Pink products you can buy from brands that give money back to research and awareness raising—makeup, clothes, accessories, fitness gear and more. Companies like Avon, Estée Lauder, Ralph Lauren, Ford and Wilson have given, over the years, hundreds of millions of dollars toward patient support and potential cures. SELF commends those efforts. Go ahead, shop away!
For those of you interested in a real-time exchange and expert tips and advice on this topic, come join me, @SELFmagazine and @Bing for a #BingIt twitter chat today about #LivePink at 12:00 PM noon Pacific/3:00 PM Eastern.
– Lucy Danziger, Editor-in-Chief of SELF Magazine