What You Can Do About Marin’s High Breast Cancer Rate – Part 2

How do we reduce breast cancer risk? Janice Barlow San Rafael's Zero Breast Cancer covers risk factors, needs in prevention research and Saturday's Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast cancer in MIll Valley.

With the 10th Anniversary Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer, focused on fundraising for breast cancer prevention happening this Saturday, September 22nd, I wanted to ask Janice Barlow, Zero Breast Cancer’s Executive Director about what we should be doing to prevent breast cancer, both as individuals and as a community.

Also I wanted to find out more about prevention research, what type of research is most needed and get the low down about the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer in Mill Valley, where hundreds gather to hike or run 6 miles up the legendary Dipsea steps on to gorgeous Mt. Tamalpais, while raising funds for breast cancer cause and prevention research -- and reducing their personal risk through physical activity.

For more about why Marin and to a lesser extent the Bay Area have higher rates of breast cancer please read part 1 of this series. 

Hannah: What can individual women do to prevent breast cancer?

Janice: The good news is we now know some of the things that women and communities can do to reduce risk.

There is very strong scientific evidence showing that being physically active across the life span (i.e., during early childhood, adolescence, premenopausal and postmenopausal) reduces one’s risk for breast cancer. A review of 19 research studies focused on physical activity and breast cancer risk found a 20 percent reduction in risk between those who were most active starting as adolescents, and those who were least active. Several research studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise for breast cancer survivors. Physical activity improves quality of life, reduces breast cancer recurrence, and decreases breast-cancer-specific mortality.

There are also studies on breastfeeding; a new one is coming out soon, so we’ll have information on our website when it is available. Breastfeeding is a consistent variable in reducing risk, so we encourage mothers to breastfeed, which of course has other benefits for the child as well.

For postmenopausal women maintaining normal body weight for your body type is very important: an increase of 20 or more pounds is a risk factor.

Consumption of alcohol is also important: research has shown a connection between one or more drinks a day and increased risk.

We recommend you use precaution with cleaning products, cosmetics and household products — some of these products contain chemicals that affect hormones.

Hormone replacement therapy that includes estrogen and progestin is an established and significant risk factor for Breast Cancer — I would avoid taking it unless it is absolutely necessary and if so take a low dose for a short period of time. We know that when the women’s health initiative study came out demonstrating the link between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer, many people stopped using it and the rates dropped substantially. This demonstrates the power of good research and the importance of getting the information out to the general public. Women had the information to make decisions that affected their lives. That’s what Zero Breast Cancer is all about.

Hannah: How can people educate themselves about these and other risk factors?

Janice: On our website we have links to the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program. We have summaries of the 11 studies that have been done in Marin that have involved women with breast cancer or their families, with information on how to access the whole study, but most importantly there is a column that summarizes what the importance of these findings are, not only in Marin but also for the world’s understanding of breast cancer. There are also fact sheets on environmental toxins and ways to reduce one’s exposures.

Hannah: How is breast cancer prevention research different today?

Janice: We are transitioning from a culture before, where people were saying there’s nothing we can do to prevent breast cancer. We need to accept and embrace that there are things we can do as individuals and as a community to prevent breast cancer that will make a significant difference.

We hope people will access the educational materials and videos that Zero Breast Cancer has developed that can be found on our website (http://www.zerobreastcancer.org), and act on those recommendations as well as implementing those that are for community environments such as the workplace, houses of worship and schools.

We hope people will consider supporting Zero Breast Cancer in making sure the information gets to women of all ages and backgrounds so everyone has equal access to the research findings that could protect their health.

We’ve brought in millions of dollars of research dollars to the Bay Area focused on prevention research. We have input into what is being studied and we now routinely contribute to the dissemination and translation of the results to make them accessible to the whole community.

Hannah: What research is really needed right now?

Janice: Very little funding, only 3 percent of the federal National Institutes of Health budget, is allocated to prevention of breast cancer research. The majority of funding is focused on diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Clearly this is important, and also much greater resources and attention are needed for prevention. Surely, never getting the disease if preferable to having it diagnosed earlier and treated aggressively.

Hannah: How are you feeling about the community response to the 10th Anniversary Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer?

Janice: We’re overwhelmed by the response and are thrilled there are so many caring people in Marin who plan to hike or run with us on Saturday, September 22nd!

This event is an important way that we educate people about how significant physical activity is for breast cancer risk reduction, and the event also raises vital funds for breast cancer prevention research. For community members who want to generate more funding for breast cancer prevention research and who want to reduce their own risk of breast cancer, the Dipsea Hike is a great way to get started. We especially encourage mothers and daughters to hike together.

We’re so grateful to our founders, Annie Fox, our former board member who sadly died of breast cancer just as her event was about to come to fruition, Chris Stewart (who was Annie’s fiancé at the time) who continues to be on our event committee, and Jerry Leith of our steadfast partners Tamalpa Runners, who sadly passed away from cancer last year. We continue to work with a fantastic committee of dedicated people and we appreciate the wonderful participants who come back year after year.

Right now we are planning the party after the hike, which will include delicious food, great music, mini-massages and awarding of prizes. We encourage all those who can, to register in advance (deadline Friday 9/21 at noon) this year, to help us plan the fun -- and to support our ongoing work – please visit http://dipsea.zerobreastcancer.org and join us on Saturday!


Author’s notes:

For more about Vitamin D please read Janice Barlow’s Marin Voice piece coming out in this week’s Marin Independent Journal.

To stay up to date on new research please join Zero Breast Cancer.

For more about the need for additional research on environmental risk factors and additional discussion of environmental risk factors please read What You Can Do about Marin's High Breast Cancer Rate Part 1.

To read about a 36-year old mom and breast cancer survivor who is participating in the 2012 Dipsea Hike for Breast Cancer with her team, the Lovely Lady Lumps please click here.


More about the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer:

Zero Breast Cancer presents its 10th Anniversary Dipsea Hike on Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 at 8am on Mount Tamalpais starting and ending at Old Mill Park, 300 Throckmorton Avenue in Mill Valley, CA. The event raises awareness about the importance of physical exercise to reducing breast cancer risk for adults and youth, while raising funds to support the research, education and community outreach programs of Zero Breast Cancer. Zero Breast Cancer is the only community-based organization dedicated to finding out why women in Marin and the Bay Area are at higher risk for breast cancer. The beautiful 6-mile loop trail is good for hiking or running. Prizes will be awarded and complimentary food; mini-massages & music will follow the hike. Adults $35; Students $20; Children under 11 are free. The event was founded in 2002 by Annie Fox, a former ZBC Board member, Marin County employee, avid trail runner and breast cancer advocate who died of breast cancer at the age of 35. Business supporters of the event include Marin Independent Journal, Tamalpa Runners, Good Earth Natural Foods, Sports Basement, Whole Foods Market Miller Avenue, Hannah Doress Events, Preventive Medical Center of Marin, Sport Loop, Speak to Me, United Markets, All California Mortgage, The Safeway Foundation, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Elan Fitness Center, YogaWorks, Bradley Real Estate, KWMR, Mechanics Bank, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Mighty Leaf Tea, Zaaz Studios, US Pure Water, La Boulange and Hanna’s Italian & Mediterranean Restaurant. For more information or to register visit:dipsea.zerobreastcancer.org

More about Zero Breast Cancer:

Zero Breast Cancer is a Marin County nonprofit organization dedicated to finding the causes and prevention of breast cancer through local participation in the scientific research process. It focuses on identifying environmental factors and the role they play in breast cancer at all stages of life and across generations. Zero Breast Cancer is the only community-based organization dedicated to finding out why women in Marin and the Bay Area are at higher risk for breast cancer. In partnership with academic and research institutions ZBC has brought several million in research dollars to fund Bay Area breast cancer researchers. Zero Breast Cancer is also the only community-based organization with a main focus on prevention of Breast Cancer through research and education. Their goal is the elimination of the disease. For more information, visit: www.zerobreastcancer.org.             

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