Breast Cancer, Part 2: Risk Factors and Prevention
Natasha Ratajczak, PT, DPT
In the last post, I discussed the risk factors and role of genetics with breast cancer. The factors that mainstream lets us hear about include gender, age and family history. However, did you know that there are several other things that could potentially increase the risk of breast cancer? Let’s take a look at a few of these and see if there are some manageable steps to decrease personal risk of breast cancer.
1. Being overweight: Women that have a BMI (Body Mass Index) greater than 25 are more likely to be at risk for breast cancer than women who maintain a healthier body weight, especially after menopause. The reason for this is because fat cells produce estrogen; therefore, extra fat cells in the body mean more estrogen in the body. However, this risk factor is complex because the area of where the extra fat is stored is important – extra fat around your middle section may increase risk more than having the same amount of fat around the thighs and hips. So, how can you take step to manage or prevent this? Create a healthy eating and exercise plan, after consulting with your physician. For helpful tips, please look here. For more information on healthy eating, dietary supplements, and nutrition resources, visit the Breastcancer.org Nutrition section.
2. Pregnancy history: Women who delivered before full term, or had their first child after the age of 30 have a higher incidence of breast cancer. According to breastcancer.org, “when breast cells are made in adolescence, they are immature and very active until your first full-term pregnancy. The immature breast cells respond to the hormone estrogen as well as hormone-disrupting chemicals in products. Your first full-term pregnancy makes the breast cells fully mature and grow in a more regular way. This is the main reason why pregnancy helps protect against breast cancer. Being pregnant also reduces your total number of lifetime menstrual cycles -- which may be another reason why earlier pregnancy seems to offer a protective effect.” Regardless of this fact, you can manage any increased risk by looking at lifestyle choices to keep your breast cancer risk as low as it can be: maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, limit alcohol, eat nutritiously, and never smoke, or quit smoking if you do so currently.
3. Going along with pregnancy histo is breastfeeding history: breastfeeding, especially for a year or more, can decrease your risk of breast cancer for several reasons. First, making milk 24/7 limits breast cells' ability to overgrow and misbehave. Also, most women have fewer menstrual cycles when they're breastfeeding (added to the 9 missed periods during pregnancy) resulting in lower estrogen levels. And of course, many women tend to eat more nutritious foods and follow healthier lifestyles (limit smoking and alcohol use) while breastfeeding. Whether or not you breastfeed, following the same lifestyle habits listed above can keep your breast cancer risk at bay.
4. Drinking alcohol: Research shows that drinking any type of alcohol excessively can increase risk by increasing estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells. Minimize drinks per week to 3 or less in order to reduce the risk maximally.
5. Lack of exercise: Exercising regularly at moderate intensity (60-70% of your max heart rate) for 4-7 hours per week helps reduce breast cancer risk, according to research.
For more information on risk factors and more tips for prevention, please visit breastcancer.org/risk/factors.