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Global Network

A Life Course for Preventing Breast Cancer

3 Ages of a Woman in SilhouetteThis marks the first week of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a disease that affects one of every eight women over the course of a lifetime.

Most women are older than 50 when diagnosed with breast cancer, but an increasing amount of research shows that what women eat and other lifestyle choices we make throughout life can make a difference for later cancer risk. And as we age, there are certain periods of time, where women are especially vulnerable to diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices.

This approach to cancer prevention is called the lifecourse approach and it's an approach that will also reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

What the Evidence Shows

AICR’s expert report and its continuous updates found that the factors increasing risk for breast cancer are:

  • overweight and obesity (postmenopausal)
  • drinking alcohol

Factors that decrease risk:

  • physical activity
  • breastfeeding your baby

Some of these choices were made for us – like being breastfed – but for parents and women of all ages, there are steps you can take today to reduce the risk of this disease.

  • As a baby
    Research shows that babies who are breastfed are less likely to be overweight as adults. This means that they are less likely to become overweight or obese as they grow older.
  • As a girl
    Eating and activity habits are often formed in childhood and habits are hard to break. For parents, we have activities and recipes as part of our Healthy Kids Today, Prevent Cancer Tomorrow campaign that can help.
  • As a teen
    Animal and observational studies suggest adolescence is an important time for future breast health. During puberty, the structure of the breast changes and cells are dividing at a quicker pace, making them especially vulnerable to risk factors and potential carcinogens. Keeping your teenage daughter away from alcohol, eating healthy, and enjoying physical activity can play a role in lowering her breast cancer risk years later.
  • As young woman
    AICR’s continuous updates found that breastfeeding lowers the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancers. Breastfeeding lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the mother’s body, reducing the risk of breast cancer and cause the body to quickly shed any damaged cells. AICR recommends women breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.
  • As any-age woman
    Keeping up some form of daily activity, limiting alcohol and staying a healthy weight offer protection against breast cancer no matter the age. If you drink alcohol, AICR recommends drinking no more than one drink a day.

AICR estimates that 38 percent of all breast cancer cases in the US could be prevented with simple, everyday changes to what we eat and how much we move. That means, in the US alone, over 86,000 women every year could be spared having to face breast cancer

Read more about breast cancer research.


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