In the month of October we bring awareness to breast cancer and what we can do to lower our risk. For women 40 and older, mammography is key in early detection, but there are also things we can do everyday to help both lower our risk and also improve the likelihood of survival if we are diagnosed.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is one of the world’s leading authorities when it comes to diet and cancer. The AICR estimates that 33% of breast cancers in the U.S. could be prevented with just small lifestyle changes to what we eat and how much we move. That means that 81,400 women could be spared from having to face breast cancer.
Last year, after exhaustively reviewing the available scientific literature, the AICR established ten lifestyle recommendations for fighting cancer. Read more about those here. Their bottom-line message for what to eat to lower our risk of breast cancer, as well as other types of cancer, was: “Diets that revolve around whole plant foods – vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans – cut the risk of many cancers, and other diseases as well.”
By making gradual healthy changes in what we eat and how much we move we can positively impact our risk of breast cancer, as well as other types of cancer. The following are a few ways you can take control of your breast cancer risk.
Get to and maintain a healthy weight. We know that extra weight can contribute to our risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, but it is now becoming clear that extra weight is likely also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer as well as other types of cancer. Obesity and that extra weight have been identified, specifically, to be associated with increased post-menopausal breast cancer risk. This is one more reason to find what works for you to get healthier and shed some pounds. Fad diets and quick fixes don’t work! Becoming more aware of why, what, how, and how much you are eating, and becoming more physically active, can work to not only help you lose weight, but keep it off for good.
Eat a whole food, plant-based diet. Eating a diet centered more on fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, and whole grains is your best bet for preventing cancer, along with many of the ailments that plague us, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Want more info on what a whole food, plant-based diet is all about and some simple ways to incorporate it? Go here.
Eat more vegetables and fruits. Eating more fruits and vegetables seems like such a simple recommendation, and one we have heard all our lives, but the truth is we all could use some work in this area – myself included. In regards to cancer prevention, it is likely that fiber and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables and other plant foods that play a key role in preventing or lessening our risk of breast cancer. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and arugula appear to have a particularly protective effect against cancer. No supplement is as effective as a real whole food in providing the body what it needs. Real food is your best choice.
How are you doing with your fruits and veggie intake? Focus on getting some fruits or vegetables at every meal and with snacks when you can. Keep a log for a few days or a week and track how you’re doing. The app “Veggie Count” is a simple way to track your fruit and veggie intake on your phone. See how you are doing and then make a plan with some specific ways you might could incorporate a few more each day. It may seem small, but it matters.
Drink in moderation, if at all. I know this is a hard one to hear for all you wine and craft beer lovers out there, but what we know is that any amount of alcohol consumption increases our risk not only of breast cancer, but many other types of cancer as well. Studies show the more we drink the more our risk increases. Something to think about the next time you reach for that second glass of wine or beer. Stick to one per day if you are going to drink at all.
Include whole soy foods. Because soy contains estrogen-like compounds, there was some fear at one time that soy may raise risk of estrogen-receptor-positive cancers. Although this is one of those hard to kill nutrition myths, scientific evidence has shown us time and again that this is not true. Soy foods contain many naturally occurring phytochemicals that are cancer-protective and are good plant sources of protein. Incorporating a moderate amount of some real-food sources, like soy milk, soy beans or edamame, and soy nuts, when you can is a good thing and has been shown to not raise risk of cancer or increase risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Be active. Being more active has almost endless health benefits and reducing our risk of breast cancer is one of them. It helps us manage our weight and helps to lower circulating estrogen levels (postmenopausal women with higher blood levels of estradiol, a type of estrogen, have an increased risk of breast cancer). In one study, over 73,000 postmenopausal women were followed for 17 years and researchers found that the most active women had a 25% lower risk of breast cancer than the least active group. Activity is about so much more than burning calories. Working up to doing moderately intense activity at least 150 minutes per week is a good goal. Some examples of moderately intense activities include walking briskly, bicycling, water aerobics, and doubles tennis. If you aren’t currently active at all, gradually add more activity in. Find some activity you enjoy and get moving!
The great news is that even doing some of these recommendations can cut your risk of cancer. Over a seven year period researchers followed a group of about 30,000 postmenopausal women with no history of breast cancer. They found that the women who were able to achieve just three of the ten AICR recommendations – limiting alcohol, eating mostly plant foods, and maintaining a normal body weight – had a 62% lower risk of breast cancer.
Your choices everyday can help prevent breast cancer and even improve survival chances after the diagnosis of breast cancer. Which of these habits could you focus on today to lessen your risk of breast cancer?