Soy foods, sugar, red wine – there’s a lot of confusing information out there when it comes to what you can do to lower breast cancer risk. And while there are no guarantees when it comes to developing breast cancer, research shows that there are steps you can take to lower risk. Even better news: those same steps will help you reduce your risk of many other cancers, along with other chronic diseases.
Here, for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re busting the myths we hear most often when it comes to lifestyle and breast cancer risk.
Myth: Tofu and other soy foods will increase my breast cancer risk.
The Research: Clear and consistent research show that eating soy foods in moderate amounts does not increase a women’s breast cancer risk. Because soy foods like tofu and edamame contain phytoestrogens, which mimic the effects of estrogen, there was fear these foods could fuel estrogen-related cancers. And for breast cancer survivors, research also shows 1 to 2 servings of soy foods a day do not increase risk of recurrence or death.
Myth: Breast cancer is a genetic disease so it doesn’t matter what I do.
The Research: Not true. Research shows that staying a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and exercising can prevent an estimated one of three breast cancer cases. Even for women who have the gene known to significantly increase cancer risk -- such as on the BRCA1 gene, it is not a guarantee you will get breast cancer. That makes it just as important to take preventive measures.
It’s possible that small amounts of alcohol may play a role in heart health, but this research is ongoing and the American Heart Association cautions that if you do not drink, don’t start. For those women who do drink, limit your intake to no more than a drink a day.
Myth: I know exercising is healthy, but it’s mostly for weight loss and heart health.
The Research. Yes, exercise is great for heart health but strong evidence shows that getting at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity – of all types – also reduces the risk of both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancers. (It also lowers risk of colorectal and endometrial cancers.) This amount of activity reduces breast cancer risk, regardless of weight. AICR also recommends avoiding inactivity for lower cancer risk.
Myth: Being a little overweight has no effect on my breast cancer risk.
The Research. AICR research has found that any amount of excess body fat raises risk of breast cancer to some degree. And too much body fat is one of the strongest factors linked to increased risk for postmenopausal breast cancer. Roughly one in five cases of breast cancer are due to excess body fat. Along with breast cancer, overweight and obesity increases risk of ten other cancers.
Myth: Sugar fuels breast cancer growth.
The Research: There’s no direct link between sugar and cancer. All cells need sugar (glucose) to live. There’s no clear evidence that the sugar in your diet preferentially feeds cancer cells over other cells. The connection between sugar and cancer risk relates to weight. Eating a lot of added sugar in sugary foods means more calories in your diet than you need, which eventually leads to being overweight or obese. It is excess body fat that is convincingly linked to greater risk of breast cancer.