Last month, during my yearly R.I.S.E. program (special surveillance for women with a high breast cancer risk) visit at Memorial Sloan Kettering, I asked about a study I’d heard about on the news. Health headlines don’t normally impress me, but this one was compelling. A very large, very long study in Denmark determined that the newer, low dose birth control pills were linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Doctors had previously thought that the smaller doses of hormones were safer.
The study followed 1.8 million Danish women for more than 10 years and found that there were an additional 13 cases for every 100,000 women among the birth control users. The risk increased with age and length of time on the pill. They did not consider additional factors like family history or lifestyle.
I wanted to know what this meant for the average women. I met with Joanne Falletta Cregg, MS, MPH, APN-BC, and my interpretation of her response was that the study was based on valid, informed science. She didn’t seem surprised at all, given everything that she knows about breast cancer and the female body. Any introduction of additional hormones bears watching. Together, we concluded that every woman who is taking hormonal contraceptives should be made aware of this new/not-so-new risk. (disclaimer: I work in marketing… so consult your doctor for taking any of this advice!)
Joanne (as she prefers to be called) also said that even though the study was noteworthy, every situation is different. While it is important to work to lower cancer risk, it is also important to balance that with quality of life. For some women, preventing pregnancy is a matter of health and many women take hormonal birth control pills for other reasons. (for cramps, for acne, or simply to stay regular to preserve the option to have children when they are ready) Some of these concerns might outweigh the increased risk. (We are simply discussing medical conditions here. Personal reproductive choices are just that, personal.)
In addition, Joanne told me about MSK research into the power of exercise to lower Breast Cancer risk (PDF). They learned that 2-3 hours of moderately intense exercise a week can reduce breast cancer risk up to 9% and 5-6 hours can reduce it by 30%. I could tell that she knew I was immediately impressed by this information. She also cautioned against taking on too much by immediately jumping from my current 1-2 hours to 6+ hours of aerobic exercise a week. Drastic changes can lead to injury which will only add stress. Stress is a contributing factor to inflammation and something that every pamphlet about preventing Breast Cancer tells me to avoid.
By the time our visit was complete, I felt that I was armed with the information that I needed to make decisions about my health. It is wonderful to be able to bring these questions to my appointment and walk away with clear answers. I was concerned that once she heard “I heard about this study on the news”, she would roll her eyes. Instead, Joanne was easy to talk to and genuinely interested in my well-being. I feel that this type of relationship that makes collaboration for the best health outcomes possible. I’ll keep you posted!
GREAT NEWS! For first three months of 2018, donations from The Strap Saver to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation will be matched, up to $5000. This means that we will raise $1.50 for the first Strap Saver in every purchase and $1.00 for each additional Strap Saver. We have a chance to make a big contribution in a short period of time, so let’s get shopping! Offer expires March 31, 2018.