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BEYOND TRIM: Don’t give breast cancer a helping hand

Change your habits and decrease your risk

Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center
Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center

Despite the attention being paid to how genetics affect our risk for certain diseases, inherited gene mutations are not the contributing cause to most breast cancer diagnoses. About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history. These cases occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and lifestyles in general. What are the contributing lifestyle factors?

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and Dr. Kristi Funk, breast cancer surgeon and author of “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual” have teamed up in a campaign to educate women (and men!) about the ways that a healthy diet and lifestyle can help reduce our risk for breast cancer. Here are their recommendations:

Choose mostly plant-based foods – Plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans lower breast cancer risk in several ways. They help with weight loss, because they are typically low in calories and high in appetite-taming fiber. In addition, high-fiber, low-fat diets can help you gently reduce estrogen levels. In turn, lower estrogen levels can lower your risk of cancer.

Exercise regularly – Physical activity lowers the risk of breast cancer. Evidence suggests that exercise helps with weight loss, and it also strengthens immune defenses, which may help the body kill cancer cells that arise. If you are sedentary now, it helps to start exercising slowly and build up gradually. Briskly walking for 10 or 15 minutes three times per week is a good beginning. You can then add 5 minutes to each walk until you are walking for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. When you feel ready to take it up a notch, you can add running, swimming, cycling, or other activities you find enjoyable.

Limit alcohol – Alcohol increases breast cancer risk. This is true for all kinds of alcohol, including beer, wine, and liquor. Even one drink a day increases risk. The less you drink, the lower your risk. Alcohol can increase estrogen levels, and it can cause DNA damage – the first step in cancer.

Maintain a healthy weight – Excess body weight increases the odds of getting breast cancer after menopause. Extra weight can also make cancer more likely to advance when it arises. Fat cells produce estrogens – female hormones that can help cancer cells to form and spread. 

As we learn more about the things that contribute to the formation of cancer, we can begin to reduce our risk for breast cancer to occur or to come back if you’ve already been diagnosed. You can learn more about the PCRM Let’s Beat Breast Cancer campaign at pcrm.com/letsbeatbreastcencer.