Lifestyle changes women should consider for preventing breast cancer

breast cancer prevention

Cancer prevention is always a worthwhile goal to pursue since all of us are susceptible to this disease. For women, other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed over a woman’s lifetime. In 2021, it’s estimated more than 280,500 women will hear the words, “You have breast cancer.”

That’s why the month of October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  This annual national health campaign’s purpose is to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure.  We all know of someone in our lives who have had breast cancer whether a family member, friend, or acquaintance. However, realize that ALL women are at risk for breast cancer. 

Many women may feel there is little they can do to help prevent breast cancer.  There are certain risk factors we can’t control – age, family history, dense breasts – but there are several lifestyle factors women can control reducing their risk of becoming a statistic of breast cancer.

Since there are no clear causes of breast cancer and therefore, no proven way to prevent the disease, it is believed that healthier living and reducing exposure to certain things that are harmful can do more good than harm.

Here are four lifestyle risk factors were consistently shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer.  By taking steps today to modify daily lifestyle habits, women can make a difference in protecting their breast health.

1.    Limit alcohol  

There has been a consistently established association of breast cancer and alcohol intake.  It has been known the more alcohol a woman consumes the greater her risk of developing breast cancer.  There is now evidence from a review published in Women’s Health that showed that alcohol intake during adolescence and the early adult years, appears to increase the risk of breast cancer.  This suggests teenage girls and young women should be educated on alcohol consumption and its association with the lifelong risk of breast cancer development.  If a woman chooses to drink alcohol, including beer, wine or liquor, limit it to no more than one drink a day.

How to do this:

·       Drink in moderation if at all

·       Moderation is defined as no more than one drink a day for a woman

·       A drink is defined as one 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, 10 oz. wine cooler or 1 ½ oz. of hard liquor

·       Don’t binge drink

2.     Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity has a strong association with increasing the risk of breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women.  A study showed body mass index (BMI) is an independent risk factor contributing to the incidence of breast cancer.  Women who are obese or have a BMI > 30 are diagnosed more frequently with breast cancer than underweight women with a BMI < 18.5.   Obese women 60 years of age or older and past menopause were especially at risk. After menopause, women’s estrogen comes from fat tissue and the more fat tissue a woman has the more estrogen produced leading to an increased chance of breast cancer.  Obese women will also have higher circulating levels of the hormone insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGF’s) both of which have been linked to tumor cell growth.

How to do this:

·       Avoid large portion sizes

·       Shop when not hungry

·       Don’t buy high-calorie, high-fat/sugar foods

·       Plan and eat regular meals – don’t skip meals

·       Slow down when eating

·       Weigh yourself daily (only once a day) to keep track of weight

3.    Be physically active

The association between physical activity and breast cancer has a lot to do with helping to reduce obesity.  Obesity is a known risk factor due to the proximity of fat tissue having a direct effect on a breast cancer tumor.  However recent research now says that physical activity also prevents breast cancer by reducing estrogen levels in women.  Estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer. Women who keep physically active and maintain healthy body weight, will have less fat tissue leading to less estrogen being produced. 

How to do this:

·       Find an activity(s) you enjoy and look forward to doing

·       Be active at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity, plus strength training at least twice a week

·       Walk as often as you can throughout the day or form a walking club with friends

·       Find ways throughout the day to be as physically active as possible

4.    Follow the Mediterranean Diet and use more olive oil

The type of dietary fat used is important in helping to lower breast cancer.  An excellent style of eating to follow is the Mediterranean Diet.  This way of eating includes foods from the Mediterranean such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, whole-wheat bread, fish, and olive oil.  A recent review focused on the impact of monounsaturated fats, in particular olive oil, and its relationship to breast cancer reduction.  There are two major components in olive oil that were studied – oleic acid and polyphenols.  Research shows olive oil protects against more aggressive breast cancer tumors like the HER2-positive breast tumor.  The polyphenols found in the olive oil help to protect against DNA damage helping to reduce breast cancer.  Thus, olive oil appears to both decrease the rate of breast cancer and the aggressiveness of this disease. 

How to do this:

·       Have a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal

·       Eat fish at least twice a week

·       Use olive oil in cooking, sautéing, or when roasting vegetables

·       Use olive oil instead of butter for spreading on bread

·       Combine 2 parts olive oil and 1 part balsamic vinegar to make a salad dressing for salads or cooked vegetables

·       Rub olive oil on fish and meat before grilling or baking

 Lifestyle changes women should consider for preventing breast cancer
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi