October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month – The Link Between Breast Cancer & Lifestyle

Why an “awareness month?”  Marking every October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month draws attention in countries all over the world to a potentially life-threatening cancer.

There are 1.38 million new cases – and 458,000 deaths – from breast cancer yearly.  It is the most prevalent type of cancer in women worldwide.  Fortunately, when detected early, there is a higher likelihood of cure. When detected late, a curative treatment is less likely.

Though we don’t know why breast cancer occurs, we do know that there may be a link between breast cancer and lifestyle.

Alcohol Intake

Drinking alcohol – especially in excess – is linked to breast cancer.

Women who drink one drink per day have a 7% to 10% increased risk of breast cancer than their nondrinking counterparts.  Women who drink two to three drinks per day have an even higher risk of breast cancer – 20% greater than nondrinkers.

Specifically, research has found that women who consume alcohol increases their likelihood of developing hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer as it can increase estrogen levels.  In addition, teenage girls who drink alcohol have an increased likelihood of developing benign breast tumors, which increases their likelihood of later developing breast cancer.

It is recommended to limit alcohol intake to one drink per day.

The Weight Debate

The link between weight and breast cancer is complex.  We know that being overweight and obese increases the risk for many different types of diseases.

It appears that perhaps the risk of breast cancer tends to increase if you are overweight after menopause.  According to the American Cancer Society, “Before menopause your ovaries make most of your estrogen, and fat tissue makes only a small part of the total amount. After menopause (when the ovaries stop making estrogen), most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase your chance of getting breast cancer.”

However, this is not a rule.  Some research indicates that being overweight before menopause increases the risk for the development of triple-negative breast cancer, which is a less common form of breast cancer.

Physical Activity

According to BreastCancer.org, there is a link between a lack or exercise and breast cancer.  Research indicates that those who exercise four to seven hours per week have much a much less likelihood of developing breast cancer than those who do not exercise or who exercise for less.

Exercise has various benefits that are cancer-prohibitive – 

  • Helps to regulate blood sugar levels
  • Limits levels of insulin growth hormone – a hormone that directly affects how certain tumors grow and behave
  • Limits weight gain
  • People who exercise regularly have fewer fat cells, which tend to produce estrogen (fat cells produce extra estrogen)

To Breastfeed – Or Not

There is limited research that may indicate that breastfeeding is protective of your breasts.  Various studies indicate that breastfeeding for over a year can protect against breast cancer.  However, this is difficult to prove in the United States, as women rarely breastfeed for this length of time.

One theory is that breastfeeding suppresses the amount of menstrual cycles that a woman has in her lifetime.  In addition, when the breasts are making milk 24/7, the cells of breast tissue are less able to “misbehave.”

According to BreastCancer.org, when a woman is breastfeeding, she is more likely to eat a healthier, nutritious diet, as well as limiting smoking and alcohol intake, which also reduces the likelihood of developing breast cancer.

What Can You Do?

If you know that you have an increased risk of breast cancer, you already have breast cancer, or you are a breast cancer survivor, it is not too late to change your lifestyle – in fact, your life may depend on it!

Making healthy lifestyle choices may not necessarily reduce your risk for developing cancer, but they can improve your overall health, thus reducing your risk for coronary artery disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation recommends the following –

  • Get regular exercise
  • Achieve – and then maintain – a healthy weight
  • Eat 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily
  • Choose whole grain foods
  • Eat “good” fats, such as natural nut butters, canola oil and olive oil, nuts, olives, and avocadoes
  • Limit processed and red meat and choose lean meats, poultry, fish, and beans more often
  • Limit or avoid sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Avoid alcohol

The Bottom Line…

The development of breast cancer is often related to various unmodifiable characteristics, such as family history.  However, there are many things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, such as maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a healthy diet, and staying active.

Make sure to show your support during this Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

Resources

Breast cancer awareness in October. (n.d.). World Health Organization. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.who.int/cancer/events/breast_cancer_month/en/

Breastfeeding history. (n.d.). BreastCancer.Org. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/breastfeed_hist

Drinking alcohol. (n.d.). BreastCancer.Org. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/alcohol

Healthy lifestyle choices. (2020, June 22). Susan G. Komen Foundation. https://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/HealthyBehaviorsampRisk.html

Lack of exercise. (n.d.). BreastCancer.Org. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/exercise

Lifestyle-related breast cancer risk factors. (2020, June 9). American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/lifestyle-related-breast-cancer-risk-factors.html

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