Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer among women worldwide, as well as in the United States. One in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer over their lifetime.
For National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we share key findings on the link between modifiable lifestyle factors and the risk from breast cancer from our recently released AICR/WCRF Third Expert Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. Learn about the science and how you can take steps to lower your risk or how you can support a loved one working to reduce their risk.
Lifestyle and Breast Cancer Risk
Alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol influences blood levels of estrogen and other hormones in ways that may make cancer more likely.
- Alcohol is a recognized carcinogen. It can cause cellular damage that can trigger cancer development.
- If you choose to drink, keep amounts small – less than 1 standard drink per day.
- Instead of a full glass of wine, make a wine spritzer with 3 ounces of wine and top off with sparkling water.
- Be creative with colorful pitchers of water infused with herbs and fruit.
Weight: Carrying excess body fat increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.
- The presence of fat tissue causes inflammation, which can lead to cancerous mutation in healthy cells.
- Having overweight or obesity increases blood levels of insulin and related hormones that can hasten the growth of cancer.
- Keep a food diary to see how closely your plates, bowls, and snacks match the New American Plate plant-based way of eating.
- Join AICR’s New American Plate Challenge to try on new healthy habits, one week at a time.
Physical Activity: Sedentary behavior is linked to an increased risk of cancer while being active decreases the risk of breast cancer.
- Vigorous activity decreases the risk for pre-menopausal breast cancer.
- Regular physical activity helps regulate hormones at optimum levels.
- Evidence suggests that people who are physically active (both before and after diagnosis) have a greater chance of surviving breast cancer.
- Set one goal for getting active such as: I will walk for 15 minutes 5 days this week.
- If you spend most of your day at a desk or sitting, set a timer to stand up and go for a 2-3 minute walk every 30 minutes.
Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding your baby lowers the risk of breast cancer.
- Breast cells undergo physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding offers protection against cancer.
- The shedding of tissue during lactation and elimination of breast cells at the end of lactation provide protection against cancer.
- If you are pregnant, ask your midwife or doctor about getting breastfeeding help and education.
- Support women and families to make breastfeeding comfortable and easy.
As diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer have improved, more women are surviving their diagnosis — and/or even becoming cancer-free. Now approximately 90 percent of those diagnosed with breast cancer survive five years or more after diagnosis.
Recommendations for Survivors
AICR recommends that cancer survivors follow our recommendations for diet and physical activity when and if they are able to do so. Studies are finding that AICR’s recommendations may help with longer survival and reduce the risk for recurrence and lower risk of other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.