Currently, 1 out of every 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives.1 Lately, there has been much attention given to the high and growing rates of breast cancer on Long Island, New York. In the early 2000s, a federally-mandated study – The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project – established that breast cancer rates were higher on Long Island, relative to the state of New York and the U.S.
While some risk factors for breast cancer are out of our control, such as family history, age, and certain genetic mutations, many of them are modifiable. With that said, I find it very important to empower ourselves with knowledge and awareness of known risk factors for breast cancer, and what we can do to lower our risk.
1. Overweight & Obesity
2. Moderate or High Alcohol Consumption
4. High Fat Diet
5. Family History (especially in a first-degree relative)
6. Genetic Mutations (BRCA-1, BRCA-2, HER2, p53, PTEN, and others)
7. Age (over 50)
8. Exogenous Estrogens (long-term use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy)
9. Late Onset Menopause (over age 55)
10. Dense Breasts (fibrocystic breast disease)
11. Having Children Over Age 282
12. Little or No Breastfeeding2
13. Nulliparity (never having children)
15. Frequent Consumption of ‘Sweets’4 (a high glycemic diet, because insulin promotes growth of cancerous cells)
16. Low Vitamin D5
17. Exposure to Certain Environmental Toxins (BPA, pesticides, parabens, etc.)
19. Chronic Stress
12 Evidence-Based Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk
1. Regular Exercise
Get your body moving and your heart rate up on most days of the week! Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer by 20%.7 You could start with 30 minutes, 3 times per week, and work up to 45-60 minutes, 5-6 times per week, of light-to-moderate aerobic exercise that is safe for you. Be sure to include strength training at least twice per week.
2. Achieve a Healthy Weight
Excess fat tissue increases estrogen and insulin levels, both of which increase your risk for breast cancer. Postmenopausal weight gain increases breast cancer risk, while postmenopausal weight loss (in women who are overweight) decreases breast cancer risk.8 If you are overweight, aim to lose a half pound per week, for gradual and sustained weight loss.
3. Check Your Vitamin D Level & Supplement If Needed
Ask your doctor to check your serum 25-OH-D3, and consult a doctor with the results and guidance on if and how much supplementation is necessary. Optimal vitamin D levels are associated with up to a 50% reduction in breast cancer risk.9
4. Low Glycemic Diet
Decrease consumption of high carbohydrate foods such as refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages. A high glycemic diet increases insulin and weight gain, both of which increase the risk for breast cancer.10
5. Increase Dietary Fiber
Increase your intake of vegetables (especially cruciferous) and low-sugar fruits (organic berries, coconut, etc.). A diet higher in fiber helps to keep our blood sugar levels stable and decreases breast cancer risk.11
6. Decrease Alcohol Intake
Moderate alcohol consumption over one’s life is associated with an increase risk of breast cancer.12 You can limit your alcohol consumption to special occasions, or avoid alcohol completely.
7. Avoid Antiperspirants with Aluminum
Aluminum has been linked to altered gene expression in breast cancer cells.13 Opt for an aluminum-free antiperspirant.
8. Check Your Thyroid Status
Hypothyroidism has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.14 Ask your doctor to run a thyroid panel, and consult a doctor about the results and any necessary steps towards optimal thyroid functioning.
9. If You are Taking Hormone Replacement Therapy or Oral Contraceptives, Talk to Your Doctor About Other Possible Options
Oral contraceptives and estrogen replacement therapy are both sources of exogenous estrogens that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.15,16
10. Breastfeed Your Children
If you are of child-rearing age, plan to breastfeed your children for at least a year after their birth. Besides the innumerable benefits breastfeeding has for your child, it decreases your risk of certain types of breast cancers.17
11. Avoid Smoking & Second-Hand Smoke
Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, especially premenopausal breast cancers.18
12. Limit Your Exposure to Environmental Toxins
It’s important to filter your water with an effective water filter, such as Zero Water or Aquasana. Choose natural, organic, and paraben-free cosmetics and personal care products, use glass instead of plastic for storing & heating food, and consume organic produce whenever possible. Environmental ‘xenoestrogens,’ pesticides, and other toxins have been linked to the rising incidence of breast cancer.19
In addition to these evidence-based steps, it’s important to follow your obstetrician/gynecologist’s recommendation for mammography screening and manual breast exams.
Would you like more specific guidance on lowering your risk?
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1. (2019). How Common Is Breast Cancer? American Cancer Society. Accessed 11 February 2019. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html.
2. Gammon, M.D., Neugut, A.I., Santella, R.M., et. al. The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project: Description of a Multi-Institutional Collaboration to Identify Environmental Risk Factors for Breast Cancer. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. (2002);74(3):235-254.
3. Cleveland, R.J., North, K.E., Stevens, J., et. al. The association of diabetes with breast cancer incidence and mortality in the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project. Cancer Causes & Control. (2012);23(7):1193-1203.
4. Bradshaw, P.T., Sagiv, S.K., Kabat, G.C., et. al. Consumption of sweet foods and breast cancer risk: a case-control study of women on Long Island, New York. Cancer Causes & Control. (2009);20(8):1509-1515.
5. Crew, K.D., Gammon, M.D., Steck, S.E., et. al. Association between Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Breast Cancer Risk. Cancer Prevention Research. (2009);2(6):598-604.
6. Reiche, E.M.V, Nunes, S.O.V., and Morimoto, H.K. Stress, depression, the immune system, and cancer. The Lancet: Oncology. (2004);5(10):617-625.
7. Bernstein, L., Patel, A.V., Ursin, G., et. al. Lifetime Recreational Exercise Activity and Breast Cancer Risk Among Black Women and White Women. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. (2005);97(22):1671-1679.
8. Eliassen, A.H., Colditz, G.A., Rosner, B., et. al. Adult Weight Change and Risk of Postmenopausal Breast Cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association. (2006);296(2):193-201.
9. Garland, C.F., Gorham, E.D., Mohr, S.B., et. al. Vitamin D and prevention of breast cancer: Pooled analysis. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. (2007);103(3-5):708-711.
10. Silvera, S.A.N., Jain, M., Howe, G.R., et. al. Dietary carbohydrates and breast cancer risk: A prospective study of the roles of overall glycemic index and glycemic load. International Journal of Cancer. (2004);114:653-658.
11. Aune, D., Chan, D.S.M., Greenwood, D.C., et. al. Dietary fiber and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Annals of Oncology. (2012);23(6):1394-1402.
12. Terry, M.B., Zhang, F.F., Kabat, G., et. al. Lifetime Alcohol Intake and Breast Cancer Risk. Annals of Epidemiology. (2006);16(3):230-240.
13. Darbre, P.D. Aluminum, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. (2005);99(9):1912-1919.
14. Johannes, L.P., Kuijpenslvan, N., Marieke, W.J., et. al. Hypothyroidism Might Be Related to Breast Cancer in Post-Menopausal Women. Thyroid. (2005);15(11).
15. Kahlenborn, C., Modugno, F., Potter, D.M., Severs, W.B. Oral Contraceptive Use as a Risk Factor for Premenopausal Breast Cancer: A Meta-analysis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. (2006);81(10):1290-1302.
16. Fournier, A., Berrino, F., Riboli, E., et. al. Breast cancer risk in relation to different types of hormone replacement therapy in the E3N-EPIC cohort. International Journal of Cancer. (2004);114(3):448-454.
17. Islami, F., Liu, Y., Jemal, A., et. al. Breastfeeding and breast cancer risk by receptor status – a systemic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Oncology. (2015);26(12):2398-2407.
18. Johnson, K.C. Accumulating evidence on passive and active smoking and breast cancer risk. International Journal of Cancer. (2005);117(4):619-628.
19. Darbre, P.D. Environmental oestrogens, cosmetics and breast cancer. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. (2006);20(1):121-143.