Nine Ways to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
Mutation in either the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene, excess estrogen levels in the body, diet, excess weight, alcohol consumption, and cigarette smoking are all risk factors for breast cancer. While there’s almost nothing we can do to change hereditary gene mutation, it is within our power to control the other factors and protect our breasts.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
A recent American Cancer Society study of more than 62,000 women found that the more weight women gain after age 18, the greater their risk of developing breast cancer during menopause. Extra pounds increase estrogen production, which can fuel cancer growth. On the other hand, even if you are heavier regular exercise will reduce your risk significantly.
“Physical activity is thought to lower the amount of estrogen in the body, thereby lowering your breast cancer,” explains Dr. Debbie Saslow, PhD, Director of Breast and Gynecologic Cancer at the American Cancer Society. So get moving. A brisk 30-minute walk five days a week can reduce breast cancer risk by 18 percent, according to a study of more than 74,000 women ages 50 to 79.
Eat Good Fats
High levels of polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat have been linked to breast cancer, so limit these fats in your diet. Opt for more monounsaturated fat, such as olive and canola oils. A study in Sweden of more than 61,000 women between the ages of 40 and 76 showed that consuming an additional 10 grams of monounsaturated fat reduces breast cancer risk by an estimated 45 percent. On the other hand, the study also showed that every extra 5 grams of polyunsaturated fat consumed, increased breast cancer risk by 69 percent. Breast cancer rates are low among women in Spain, Greece, and Italy, and the fact that people in these countries use olive oil as their primary source of fat undoubtedly is a factor in this beneficial result.
Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that protect against cancer, and these are found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Researchers at New York University compared blood samples from 270 women who subsequently developed breast cancer to samples taken from 270 women who did not. They found that women with the lowest levels of carotenoids had twice the risk of breast cancer as found in those with the highest levels. Try to eat five to nine servings (one-half- to one cup) daily of fruit and vegetables, especially carrots, tomatoes, watermelon, and spinach.
Add Flaxseed to Your Diet
These seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support cardiovascular health as well as lowering the risk of all types of cancer. Flaxseed also contains high levels of a compound called lignans that may reduce estrogen activity in the body. Studies on rats show that lignans actually shrink breast tumors. To eat flaxseed, sprinkle two to three tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your cereal, add to smoothies, or use flaxseed oil in salad dressing.
Learn to Like Soy
Women in Asia have one-fifth the breast cancer rate of Western women. Scientists believe that the reason is their soy-rich diet. A Japanese study showed that women who ate three or more bowls of miso soup (made with fermented soybeans), reduced their risk by 50 percent over those who had less. Soy foods contain phytoestrogens, compounds that are weak forms of estrogen and may protect against breast cancer. Add one to two servings of soy foods daily to your diet – a cup of soy milk, a half cup of tofu, tempeh, or soy nuts.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Alcohol intake is linked to increased levels of estrogen which fuels cancer. It is recommended that if you drink alcohol occasionally, take 400 micrograms of daily folic acid (the amount found in most multivitamins). A Mayo Clinic study showed that women with the lowest folate (folic acid occurring in fruits and vegetables) intake who drank even a small amount of alcohol daily — even half a drink — had a 59 percent increased risk of breast cancer, but a high intake of folate cancelled out the increased risk among moderate drinkers. How folate reduces the risk is not clear, but experts agree that most Americans are not getting enough.
Studies show that the younger women are when they first start smoking, the greater their risk of developing breast cancer before menopause. Other studies suggest that women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer may increase their risk if they smoke. Also current and past smokers who develop breast cancer are twice as likely to get an aggressive form of the disease that is not estrogen-dependent. Similar risk applies with second-hand smoke.
Limit Use of Antibiotics
New evidence suggests that the more often you take antibiotics, the higher your breast cancer risk. A study of more than 10,000 women revealed that the risk of breast cancer is doubled among those who took antibiotics for more than 500 cumulative days (the equivalent of about 25 prescriptions) over an average of 17 years compared with women who never took antibiotics. Researchers caution, however, that other factors, such as underlying illness, weakened immune system, or hormonal imbalance, could account for the increased risk.
Opt to Breast-Feed
Not only is it good for your infant, but lactation also suppresses ovulation and the production of estrogen. Researchers compared the birth rates and breast-feeding practices among women in developed countries with women in developing nations in Asia and Africa and found that the breast cancer risk in developed countries could be cut in half if women had as many babies and breast-fed each child for an average of 30 months per child as women in developing countries. Breast-feeding alone would reduce the risk by two-thirds. They also found that for each year a woman breast-feeds, her breast cancer risk dropped 4 percent.