Breast cancer - How do I Reduce my risk?
How common is breast cancer?
October is #Breastcancerawareness month. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with one woman diagnosed every 10 minutes (1). Diagnosis is more common in women but does occur in men (approximately 1% of cases) and it is more common in women over 50 years (80% of breast cancer cases)
Very few case- about 3% (2) are diagnosed in women with genes that are associated with breast cancer.
What is cancer?
Cancers develop when damaged cells grow rapidly which then forms a lump or tumour. The reasons why cells become damaged which then develops into cancer is very complex and likely due to several factors such as age, our genes, our lifestyle and environment.
BUT remember It doesn’t mean that you didn’t do anything to prevent breast cancer.
Nothing you did caused your breast cancer.
In the literature you will read about ‘risk factors’; these describe how likely something will happen or not. When we are talking about cancer, the research talks about different factors that are linked to an increased or decreased chance of developing cancer. There are some risk factors such as age and genetics that we cannot control but other factors such as our lifestyle choices and environment that we can influence.
Which lifestyle factors can reduce my risk of breast cancer?
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) regularly reviews all the research relating to cancer and diet to produce recommendations for the public (3). The risk factors for developing breast cancer perimenopause (before menopause) or post menopause are different, but overall these 3 lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of breast cancer or prevent reoccurrence of breast cancer.
3 lifestyle changes to reduce your breast cancer risk or prevent reoccurrence
1. Reduce your alcohol intake
There is strong evidence that drinking alcohol is linked to breast cancer.
There was no set amount of alcohol that is considered safe, as the more alcohol you consume the greater the risk.
Alcohol contains ethanol and it Is this substance in alcohol, which is believed to be harmful. It is still unclear how alcohol increases cancer risk, but high quantities of ethanol can cause ‘oxidative stress’ in the body potentially causing damage to cells which could lead to cancer. You can read more about alcohol and cancer in my blog here
Try to limit your alcohol intake and do not exceed the DOH (Department of Health) guideline of no more than 14 units of alcohol a week with some alcohol free days.
2. Be a healthy weight
Weight and breast cancer risk is complex and more research is needed in this area.
Being a healthy weight during adulthood reduces your risk of breast cancer developing after the menopause. Keeping a healthy weight will also reduce your risk of developing other cancers and other health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
Recommendation: Aim to keep to a healthy weight
3. Move more!
Being active can help reduce your risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Being more active can decrease your body fat level and can improve insulin sensitivity which is linked to reducing your risk of cancer (3).
Try to reduce you sitting time
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (eg. brisk walking, dancing, water aerobics and cycling- you should start feeling warmer) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (e.g. running, fast swimming, aerobics- you should be feeling very hot and not be able to talk without pausing to take a breath) every week. For ideas on how to get started read my blog on home exercise and The hidden secret to exercise
Other recommendations- breastfeeding
If you are able to breast your baby it not only provides your baby a range of health benefits but also can protect you from breast cancer. It is thought that breastfeeding lowers cancer-related hormones in the mother’s body during lactation by removing of cells with DNA damage. Breastfed babies are also less likely to be overweight so have a lower cancer risk
So that is all good knowing these risks factors I hear you say, but these are 3 big lifestyle changes!
How do I make these changes fit into my life?
Working with a registered dietitian we can develop a plan together, to make small step by step changes to meet these big goals. Book your call to find out how I can support you.
If you are post breast cancer treatment and want to start making changes to you lifestyle NOW you can also download my 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR DIET AFTER CANCER guide here to get started
(3) World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer. 2017. Available at: wcrf.org/breast-cancer–2017. All CUP reports are available at wcrf.org/cupreports.