Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. The latest research shows that women can lower their risk of developing this cancer through staying a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity and eating a healthy diet, say experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).
AICR research estimates that one of every three US breast cancer cases annually – 81,400 women – could be prevented with diet, exercise habits, and weight management.
“While there are no guarantees when it comes to developing cancer, what we do know is that women can take steps everyday to reduce the odds of developing breast cancer, along with many other cancers and chronic disease,” said Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR’s Head of Nutrition Programs. “This is such an empowering and important message.”
For National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bender shares three evidence-based steps to reduce your risk.
1. Get to – and stay – a healthy weight
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 is due to excess body fat. Excess fat tissue can promote chronic inflammation, and increase blood levels of insulin and related hormones that can spur the growth of cancer cells. Along with breast cancer, overweight and obesity increases risk of ten other cancers.
2. Fit activity into your day
From gardening to running, getting at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity – of all types – reduces the risk of both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancers. This amount of activity helps manage your weight and can help with immune function and a healthy gastrointestinal tract. AICR also recommends avoiding inactivity for lower cancer risk.
3. Avoid alcohol, or if you do drink, drink moderately
Research shows that even small amounts of alcohol – on a regular basis – increase the risk of breast cancers. Risk increases with higher amounts. Alcohol or ethanol is a carcinogen, which could damage DNA and increase levels of hormones that fuel cancer. Regular alcohol intake also increases risk of other cancers, including mouth and esophageal. AICR recommends that for women who do drink, limit the amount to one glass a day.
For new moms, AICR research shows that breastfeeding also reduces the risk of both postmenopausal and premenopausal breast cancers.
“When it comes to breast cancer, you can take control to lower risk through lifestyle changes that offer powerful protection,” said Bender.
Sources: AICR/WCRF. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Breast Cancer. 2010.
AICR. What You Need to Know about Obesity and Cancer. 2016.