Breast cancer affects about 1 in 8 women and 1 in 100 men over a lifetime. Women should pay attention to changes in their breasts and have routine screening mammograms as directed by their doctor.
As a breast surgeon, I focus not only on the treatment of disease, but on risk reduction and prevention, too. While having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk, all women are at risk.
Unfortunately, in any one individual, it’s not possible to say exactly why breast cancer developed. But, we are becoming more aware of the effects of lifestyle and environmental influences on the development of cancer and other diseases.
Lifestyle and Breast Cancer
A healthy lifestyle doesn’t equal prevention. But, here are some facts regarding breast cancer:
- Postmenopausal women who are overweight are at greater risk of developing breast cancer. And, if they’ve been treated for breast cancer, their risk of recurrence is increased if they are overweight.
- Moderate exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, as well as the risk of recurrent disease. • A high-fat diet has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Consumption of more than 3-6 alcoholic drinks per week is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Exposure to some environmental toxins, such as BPA, has been linked to breast cancer development in laboratory animals. The link between breast cancer and various chemicals is the subject of intense research and there are many conflicting studies. Until we have firm data, however, it seems prudent to limit your exposure to toxic chemicals whenever possible.
It’s possible to do everything “right” and still develop breast cancer. The reality is that breast cancer – and many other diseases – are caused and exacerbated by multiple factors. That’s why studies evaluating methods of prevention are so difficult. And it’s also why studies regarding the benefits of a particular nutrient or extract need to be placed in proper perspective: it’s usually not as simple as one nutrient or extract.
Develop Healthy Habits
My recommendation for my patients – and not just those with breast cancer – is to simply take good care of yourself. As we age (and we’re all getting older!), our bodies become less tolerant of the effects of lack of sleep, heavy alcohol intake and the dietary habits that we had in our 20s. Our bodies have changed, and we have to change our habits if we want to stay healthy.
Here are some guidelines:
A low-fat (not no fat!!) diet: focus on the healthy fats such as olive oil, salmon, walnuts, avocados.
A plant-based diet: focus on greens, veggies of all colors and fruits. Think it’s easier to take your fruits and veggies in pill form? While you may get some of the vitamins and extracts, the way the real foods interact is complex and can’t be replicated in a pill. Trace nutrients we may not even know about will also be missing, as well as fiber and the wonderful taste of properly prepared, fresh, real food! A periodic splurge is fine – life is too short to go without chocolate. Just make sure it’s good quality, dark if possible.
- Animal protein is okay. Consider the source and eat in moderation.
- Don’t forget non-animal sources of protein like legumes and quinoa.
- Moderate alcohol intake: 3-6 drinks per week.
- Regular exercise: if you can’t do the spinning class you did 10 years ago, a good 30-minute walk once a day is fine. If you need that endorphin rush of strenuous activity, make sure to balance it with some more meditative exercise like yoga or Pilates.
- Proper sleep: we all need 7-9 hours a night, period. Our bodies repair themselves during sleep, and you can’t just “catch up” on the weekends.
- Meditation / reflection: it’s important to take time each day to reflect on what’s good in your life. Having a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the good things will help make it easier to get through the tough times. This can be as formal or informal as you want. Just try to fit it in somewhere.
Hopefully this gives you something to think about and some motivation. Just remember that you’re not making diet and lifestyle changes only to reduce your risk of breast cancer. These steps can make you a healthier and happier person overall.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Need help jumpstarting an exercise program or developing healthy eating habits? Talk to your health care team. From your primary care provider to specialists, they can provide tips and resources to get you started.