Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer with these 3 Science Supported Habits

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. One in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. Medical treatment can cure it in many women. However, experts estimate that 40,700 women will die of breast cancer this year. Like all women, I want to know how to reduce my risk. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer – but many women who get it don’t have one either. So, I went looking for the best evidence on what we can do to lower our risk.  One of best websites for solid, science based cancer prevention recommendations is the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR). They estimate that 33% of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. are preventable. That means 81,400 women who could avoid breast cancer. But how?

You can’t avoid all of the risk factors for breast cancer. Age and genetics increase your risk and you can’t do much about them. But there are some things you do have control over. Research shows that these three steps may actually lower your risk:   

Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk:
1.    Get to – and Stay – at a Healthy Weight
Extra body fat correlates with post-menopausal breast cancer risk. About 1 in 5 cases of breast cancer is in women with extra body fat. Fat tissue increases inflammation and hormones that promote cancer cell growth. Overweight and obesity correlate with 10 other cancers as well.

2.    Be Physically Active Every Day
Exercise helps lower the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer risk. It can help you stay at a healthy weigh and boost the immune system. Thirty minutes a day may be all you need! It can be any activity – walking, gardening, dancing, swimming, hiking and the list goes on!

3.    Limit Alcohol
Alcohol can act as a carcinogen in the breast tissue. It can damage DNA and increase hormones that promote cancer. Women should limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day or seven per week on average. Less is best when it comes to alcohol and cancer risk. 

Now, those three are the most evidence-based recommendations. There’s a lot of interest in Mediterranean diets and the risk of cancers. One recent study showed that a Mediterranean eating style – particularly nuts and olive oil – reduces breast cancer risk. The study was a randomized controlled trial. That’s the kind of study that can actually show cause and effect. It's a really strong study design. But it’s just one study – so we can’t really make recommendations on it just yet. Also, the women in the study were eating around four tablespoons of olive oil a day! That’s a lot to work into your diet (although I’m pretty sure I’m getting at least two to three a day!). Some new research is also linking smoking with breast cancer.

But at least for now, you can take these three steps and rest assured that you’re doing all you can to lower your risk!

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham


The American Institute for Cancer Research (

JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(11):1752-1760. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.4838

Published online September 14, 2015. Corrected on November 2, 2015.

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