You may be surprised to learn that nearly one-third of cancer deaths are attributed to diet and lifestyle. Clearly, how you live your life will have an impact on your health.
In regards to breast cancer, many of the dietary and lifestyle changes that provide a protective benefit are associated with reducing lifetime exposure to estrogen, which is believed to be a primary risk factor for the disease.
Top 10 Tips to Reduce Your Cancer Risk
1. Eat More Fruits & Veggies. Many epidemiologic studies have demonstrated that populations which eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables have reduced risk of some cancers. How these foods provide cancer protection is not completely understood. But, a whole-food, mostly plant-based diet that incorporates lean protein and polyunsaturated fats provides the vital nutrients for maintaining overall health & wellness.
2. Choose Whole Grains. In terms of nutrient delivery and fiber, fruits and vegetables are the best source of carbohydrates. However, if and when you eat grains, be sure that you’re getting the whole grain which includes the bran and the germ. Foods that are made from whole grains must be labeled “whole” or “whole grain”. For more information, see The Scoop on Whole Grains.
3. Limit Alcohol Intake. As your alcohol intake goes up, so too does your risk for breast cancer. While the mechanism is not known, it may relate to alcohol-induced increases in estrogen or other hormones, reduction of folic acid, or a direct effect of alcohol or its metabolites on breast tissue. Limit yourself to one drink a day (e.g. one can of beer, one shot of hard liquor, one 5 oz. glass of wine).
4. Reduce Red & Processed Meats. The hormones, growth factors, and antibiotics that are an integral part of conventionally-raised beef increases the volume of unnecessary hormones in our body. Opting for plant proteins like legumes, nuts and seeds bypasses this issue completely. But on the occasion you eat meat, look for pasture-fed beef, farm-raised poultry, and deep, cold-water fish.
5. Cut the Fat. Saturated and trans fats contribute to weight gain and heart disease due to the extra calories and cholesterol. In postmenopausal women, circulating estrogen is primarily produced in fat tissue. Although not completely understood, weight loss is associated with reduced levels of circulating hormones, some of which are associated with increased cancer risk. For women diagnosed with breast cancer, lower fat intake has been associated with a reduction in cancer recurrence.
6. Know Your Body. Early detection of breast cancer increases treatment options and saves lives. As soon as a young woman hits puberty she should be paying attention to changes in her body, including monthly self-exams of her breasts. At least every three years starting in her 20s she should have her doctor include a clinical breast exam (CBE) in her regular physical. From age 40 she should add an annual mammogram that looks for breast tissue abnormalities. The American Cancer Society even recommends mammograms be started at an earlier age for high-risk women.
7. Get Moving. Aside from the numerous health benefits, vigorous physical activity may decrease the exposure of breast tissue to circulating estrogen, and may also provide a protective benefit by reducing insulin and related growth factors. A recent study found that after breast cancer diagnosis, women who are more physically active are less likely to die than women who are inactive. The ideal is to engage in 45 to 60 minutes of physical exercise three to five times a week.
8. Breastfeed Your Babies. Breastfeeding has consistently shown to decrease a women’s risk of developing breast cancer. One study found that women who had breastfed for any length of time reduced their risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer by 25 percent compared with women who had never breastfed.
9. Limit Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT). To limit this risk, women who use MHT should use the lowest dose possible, for the shortest duration.
10. Antiestrogens for High-Risk Women. Two medications, tamoxifen (Soltamox) and raloxifene (Evista), have been approved in women at increased risk for developing breast cancer. These so-called SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator) medications work by reducing the amount of circulating estrogen.
Modifying these behaviors is simple in theory yet can be difficult in practice. But with consistency comes familiarity, and eventually you will form healthy habits that reduce your risk for disease, and boost your quality of life along the way.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.