Around the globe, breast cancer affects millions of women. One in eight women is predicted to have breast cancer during their lifetime in the United States alone. While there are several risk factors that you can’t control, such as a family history of breast cancer or dense breast tissue, there are certain behaviors and lifestyle choices that may have a significant impact on lessening your risk. Eliminating the habits that you can control can help decrease your risk of developing breast cancer.
About 30 to 40 percent of all malignancies are considered to have some connection to diet. You cannot avoid developing breast cancer with diet or food alone. However, certain meals may improve your body’s health, strengthen your immune system, and lower your chance of breast cancer. According to research, eating a range of foods that are high in nutrients, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, may help you feel your best and provide your body with the energy it needs. Animal studies suggest eating food cultivated without pesticides may help prevent the unfavorable cell alterations linked to pesticide usage.
In nations where the traditional diet is plant-based and low in total fat, breast cancer is less prevalent. However, studies on American adult women haven’t shown a link between dietary fat consumption and a woman developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet throughout adolescence, however, may increase a girl’s risk of developing breast cancer later in life, even if she doesn’t go on to gain weight or become obese.
Further study is required to fully comprehend how nutrition affects the risk of breast cancer. However, it is undeniable that calories do matter, and fat is a significant source of calories. Being overweight or obese, which are breast cancer risk factors, may be brought on by high-fat diets. Because excess fat cells produce estrogen, which may promote the development of extra breast cells, overweight women are considered to have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer risk is increased by this additional growth.
Lack of Exercise
Regular exercise benefits your health in a variety of ways, one of which is a decreased risk of breast cancer. Over the last 20 years, several studies have consistently shown a relationship between increased physical activity and a decreased risk of breast cancer.
It is unclear exactly how exercise reduces the chance of developing breast cancer. It is believed that exercise controls estrogen and insulin, two substances that may promote the development of breast cancer. Regular exercise also aids women in maintaining a healthy weight, which supports hormone regulation and immune system health.
Unfortunately, there is no magic number of hours a woman should exercise each week to prevent breast cancer. We do know that more is preferable to less, and that some is better than none. Additionally, more intense exercise is more productive than less intense exercise. All people should exercise for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate effort or 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity, ideally spaced out over the course of the week, according to the American Cancer Society.
Brisk strolling, dancing, leisurely biking, yoga, golfing, softball, doubles tennis, and routine yard and garden upkeep are some examples of moderate-intensity exercises. Jogging, running, rapid cycling, swimming, aerobic dancing, soccer, singles tennis, and basketball are some examples of high-intensity exercises. Along with your regular daily activities at home and at work, all of these extracurricular activities include stair climbing and walking from your vehicle to the garage.
Exercise has the additional benefit that it keeps you from merely sitting around. The probability of acquiring breast cancer and several other forms of cancer, as well as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease rises with sitting time, regardless of how much exercise you receive when you’re not sitting, according to an increasing body of research. Many of us spend most of our workdays seated at a desk. Because of this, it’s even more crucial to include activity throughout your day.
Certain Types of Birth Control
There is a small increase in the risk of breast cancer associated with the current or recent usage of oral contraceptives. According to studies, women’s breast cancer risk is 20–30% greater while using birth control pills (and immediately after) than the risk for women who have never used the pill. However, since the absolute risk of breast cancer for the majority of young women is low, this additional risk has only a little effect.
Women’s chances of developing breast cancer start to decrease after they quit using oral contraceptives. The risk eventually drops to the same amount as women who have never used the pill. Despite the increased risk of breast cancer , birth control pills also lower the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer in addition to preventing pregnancy. Just like with previous, higher-dose versions of the drug, modern, lower-dose tablets have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Some alternative contraceptives contain (or release) hormones, just like birth control pills do. Depo Provera users who have been using it for extended periods of time may be at a higher risk for breast cancer than women who have never used it.
Research on IUDs that release hormones and breast cancer research have conflicting results. IUDs don’t increase the risk of breast cancer, according to some research. According to other studies, women who use hormone-releasing IUDs may have a 20% greater chance of developing breast cancer (similar to birth control pills). According to other research, women who previously used hormone-releasing IUDs may be more likely to develop breast cancer after menopause.
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of any contraceptive pill with your doctor before using it (or if you already are and haven’t done so).
Not Getting Routine Mammograms
Low-dose x-rays of the breast are called mammograms and can help doctors identify a breast cancer diagnosis. Regular mammograms are one of the best breast cancer screenings that may assist in detecting early stage breast cancer, when treatment has the best chance of being effective. Years before physical breast cancer symptoms appear, a mammogram may often detect breast abnormalities that might be cancer. Results from decades of research definitively demonstrate that women who receive routine mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer discovered earlier, are less likely to require an invasive breast cancer treatment like chemotherapy and surgery to remove the entire breast (mastectomy), and are more likely to recover from the disease.
Mammography is not flawless at detecting breast cancer cells. Dense breast tissue can make it harder for radiologists to see breast cancer on mammograms. Although most breast cancers will be detected, some will be missed. A woman will probably need more testing (such as additional mammograms or a breast ultrasound) in order to determine if anything seen on a screening mammogram is cancer. Additionally, there is a slight possibility of receiving a cancer diagnosis that, if not discovered during screening, would never have given rise to any issues. It’s crucial that women undergoing mammograms be aware of what to anticipate and the advantages and limitations of screening. As you age, your risk of developing breast cancer increases. Breast cancer screening through mammography is vital for women over age 40.
Use of Tobacco Products
According to research, smoking may significantly increase the chance of developing breast cancer, particularly in women who began smoking as adolescents or who had a family history of breast cancer. Smoking might increase one’s chance of developing breast cancer because specific chemicals in tobacco products may cause out-of-control cell proliferation in the body. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in certain women, despite the fact that it is not thought to be a direct cause. In addition, smoking may make treating breast cancer more difficult and lead to complications from breast cancer surgery. Avoiding tobacco products is an important factor in breast cancer prevention.
Excessive Use of Alcohol
Many studies reveal women who consume alcohol have an increased risk of breast cancer. According to research, the relative risk of breast cancer rose by roughly 7% for every alcoholic beverage taken daily. Compared to women who didn’t consume alcohol, women who had 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day had a 20% increased chance of developing breast cancer.
Alcohol may alter how a woman’s body processes estrogen. Blood estrogen levels may increase as a result of this. Women who drink alcohol have greater amounts of estrogen than non-drinkers do. As a consequence, higher estrogen levels are related to a higher risk of breast cancer. Alcohol and cancer risk can be controlled by limiting the amount you consume.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Breast cancer risk is elevated by the majority of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) types. However, individuals who take combination hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which combines both estrogen and progesterone, are at a greater risk.
Breast cancer risk is only modestly elevated when HRT is used for less than a year. However, the hazards become more severe and continue longer the longer you use HRT.
HRT-related breast cancer risk varies from individual to individual. The risk may vary depending on your age when you start HRT, any medications you may be on, and overall health.
Breast cancer risk factors are greater for people who take HRT before or shortly after menopause as compared to those who start it later.
Even though there are several potential causes of breast cancer, some behaviors and lifestyle choices may have a big impact. These lifestyle choices, including smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating poorly may all raise your risk. Regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are effective methods to lower your risk. This disease may also arise as a result of certain birth control methods and hormone replacement therapy. If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to speak to your doctor about them.
Valerie Gorman, MD, FACS, is a breast cancer surgeon. She is board certified by the American Board of Surgery and serves as Chief of Surgery and Medical Director of Surgical Services at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie.
- Certificate, Physician Leadership Program, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas (2010)
- M.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas, Texas (June 1999)
- B.S., Biola University, LaMirada, California, (1994) Magna Cum Laude
- Residency in General Surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Texas (June 2004)