Do you know what to do to reduce your breast cancer risk?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so we wanted to take this opportunity to remind you of the daily habits that will help you to stay healthy.
From what we know, you absolutely can affect your future by the choices you make today.
Lifestyle Choices Affect Your Breast Cancer Risk
Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer among women, after lung cancer. Fortunately, breast cancer death rates have been decreasing since 1989, for an overall decline of 43 percent through 2020.
On the other hand, incident rates have increased by 0.5 percent per year.
Lifestyle choices make a difference. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), certain breast cancer risk factors are related to personal behaviors, such as diet and physical activity. In a 2020 study, researchers examined data from over 17,000 women over a period of about nine years.
The results showed a twofold higher risk for women who had an unfavorable lifestyle (three out of five unfavorable factors) versus those who had a favorable lifestyle. Those with an unfavorable lifestyle also had a two times higher overall mortality risk.
The five lifestyle factors factored into the outcomes were:
hypertension or high blood pressure
These and other studies show us that we can reduce our risk of breast cancer by adopting certain habits in our lives and avoiding others. Several studies have also shown that adhering to healthy lifestyle habits can reduce breast cancer recurrence (after you’ve had it) and reduce mortality from the disease.
5 Habits that Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
Below are the most heavily researched lifestyle habits that have been shown in studies to help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
1. Move More
Exercise is so good for you in so many ways. One of them is reducing your breast cancer risk. But we’re not just talking about a 30-60-minute daily workout. We’re talking about overall physical activity.
How much do you move throughout the day? The more, the better. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) review of 73 studies, there was an average 25 percent risk reduction among physically active women as compared to the last active women. The associations were strongest for “recreational activity”—which means any outdoor activity you do for relaxation and fun—as well as for moderate to vigorous workouts.
Scientists believe that when we are active, multiple processes occur in the body involving sex hormones, insulin resistance, inflammation, and more that benefit us. Whatever is causing the benefit, you can take advantage of it. Try to get 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate physical activity per week, or 1-2 hours of vigorous activity per week.
Bottom line: just get up and move more!
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Having excess body weight increases the risk of breast cancer, particularly after menopause. In one 2015 study, being obese created the greatest risk, with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher being strongly associated with a risk of breast cancer. Obesity was also associated with more advanced disease and larger tumors.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AIRC) estimates that a third of U.S. breast cancers could be prevented if women stayed at a healthy weight throughout life, were active, and did not drink alcohol.
The MD Anderson Cancer Center notes that after menopause, your breast cancer risk increases by about 12 percent for every five-point increase on the BMI scale. Scientists think this is because body fat has an effect on hormones (potentially increasing estrogen levels), and hormones have a big effect on your cancer risk.
The good news is that losing weight at any age can help. Women who lose weight after the age of 50 and keep it off have a lower risk of breast cancer than women whose weight stays the same.
3. Skip the Cocktails
According to Breastcancer.org, drinking alcoholic beverages—beer, wine, and liquor—increases a woman’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. This seems to be because alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones and also damage the DNA in cells.
Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15 percent higher risk of breast cancer. Estimates are that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10 percent for each additional drink women regularly have each day.
A 2009 study showed that drinking even a few alcoholic beverages per week (3 to 4) increased the risk of breast cancer coming back in women who had been diagnosed with early-stage disease.
Your best bet? Avoid alcohol. If you want to drink now and then, try to limit how many servings you consume.
4. Ask Your Doctor About Hormone Supplements
Hormone supplements can be very helpful for women, both to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to manage the symptoms of menopause.
There is some evidence, however, that hormone therapies may increase the risk of breast cancer in certain situations. Some studies suggest that women who were using or had recently stopped using oral combined hormone contraceptives had a modest increase in the relative risk of breast cancer compared with women who had never been on the pill. The risk depended on the type of contraceptive used and the duration of use.
Other studies showed conflicting results, however, showing there was no increased risk of breast cancer in current or former users of birth control pills.
Hormone-replacement therapy (HRT), which can be an effective treatment for menopausal symptoms, may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence. The risks depend on the type of HRT you’re taking, the dose you take, your age when you start taking it, and how long you use it.
The truth is that scientists still aren’t sure about all the factors that are involved when it comes to hormone therapy and breast cancer. A study in the early 2000s seemed to show that HRT increased risk by a lot, but newer research suggests it’s more complex than that.
Today, medical guidelines say the benefits of HRT—which can include quality of life and protection of bone health—can outweigh the risks for certain women. Talk to your doctor about your particular case.
5. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Studies on diet and breast cancer have shown mixed results, but we do have some quality research on eating fruits and vegetables.
A meta-analysis combining the results of 15 studies, for example, found that women who ate the most fruit had a slightly lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who ate the least.
A pooled analysis of data from 20 studies also found that women who ate the most vegetables had a lower risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer compared to women who ate the least.
Some studies have also suggested that a healthy diet can help breast cancer survivors live longer. One focused on fruit juices and fruit and vegetable intake and found that women who ate the greatest amounts of fruits and vegetables after their breast cancer diagnosis had an overall lower risk of dying during the course of the study compared to those who ate the least amounts. The overall vegetable intake seemed to be the driving factor. Fruit intake on its own didn’t help with mortality.
Another study looked at carbohydrates. Researchers found that breast cancer survivors who consumed higher glycemic load diets (which are higher in carbs) were at an increased risk of dying from breast cancer compared to those who ate low glycemic index diets.
Other Ways to Potentially Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer
In addition to the above lifestyle choices, the following may also contribute to a reduced cancer risk:
Smoking is bad for you in many ways. Studies have found that it is associated with a modest but significantly increased risk of breast cancer.
Studies have suggested that breastfeeding your children may slightly reduce the risk of breast cancer later in life. According to the National Institutes of Health, it may reduce risk by 4.3 percent for every 12 months of breastfeeding.
Reduce chemical exposure
Some studies have suggested that high exposure to environmental chemicals may increase the risk of breast cancer, and potentially make the cancer more resistant to treatment. These environmental chemicals can be in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and the products we use on our skin.
You can reduce your risk by being cautious about chemicals in your life. Here are a few ways to do that:
Purchase organic produce—it typically has fewer pesticides (consult the Environmental Working Group’s shoppers guide to pesticides in produce)
Always wash your produce items before preparing or eating
Avoid heating foods in plastic containers—use glass or ceramic
Choose personal care products from conscientious companies who don’t include hormone-disrupting ingredients in their products—like CV Skinlabs!
Check the Skin Deep database to see how safe your products are
Choose fragrance-free personal care and laundry products
Use sunscreens with mineral-based filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide
Avoid antibacterial hand soaps, hand sanitizers, and cleaning products that contain quaternary ammonium compounds
Dust and vacuum in your house regularly
Ditch the air fresheners
CV Skinlabs Supports Breast Cancer Research
At CV Skinlabs, supporting breast cancer research and advocating for a reduction in this disease is near and dear to our hearts. Our brand was born out of a need to reduce the painful effects of cancer treatments on the skin. Safety and wellness are part of our DNA.
Our products have all been toxicology screened and are always free from any potentially harmful ingredients, endocrine disruptors, and irritants. We’ve even excluded fragrance and essential oils, as some have a slight potential to mimic estrogen in the body.
Our customers can use our products with complete peace of mind, knowing they contain no ingredients known to potentially increase the risk of breast cancer.
How do you reduce breast cancer risk?
Featured image courtesy Anna Tarazevich via Pexels.