Breast cancer is a common concern for female patients, affecting roughly 1 in 8 U.S. women at some point in their lifetime. It is estimated that almost 270,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. women this year, with an additional 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer being projected as well. Although breast cancer death rates have been decreasing since 1989, there are still over 40,000 American women expected to die in 2019 from the disease. Luckily, emerging research is providing scientists with data to help women lower their chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Here are some ways that female patients can lower their risk for developing breast cancer.
Research has shown that the female’s risk for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer increases with alcohol consumption. This occurs because alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with this form of cancer. Alcohol consumption can further increase one’s risk for breast cancer by causing damage to the genetic material in cells.
When compared to women who do not consume alcohol, those who have three drinks a week express a 15% increase in breast cancer risk. This risk is estimated to increase by another 10% per additional drink that women consume every day. In addition, a 2009 study found that consuming 3-4 drinks per week increased the risk of breast cancer recurring in women who had previously had early-stage malignancy. To minimize their risk of developing breast cancer, women should limit their alcohol consumption as much as possible.
Smoking poses as a leading risk factor for various diseases and is correlated to higher rates of breast cancer in young, premenopausal women. Research has also found a correlation between exposure to secondhand smoke and breast cancer risks in postmenopausal women. A 2001 study published in Chest found that smoking may promote the metastasis, or spread, of breast cancer to a woman’s lung. Another major study published in Breast Cancer Research in 2017 found that smoking can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 35%.
Smoking can also create further complications during breast cancer treatment, including damage to the lungs from radiation, difficulty recovering from surgery, and an increased risk of blood clots while during hormone therapy. If you are a non-smoker aiming to reduce your risk for breast cancer, do not start smoking. If you are a current smoker, using resources like smoking cessation programs are available to help you quit.
Women with a BMI over 25 (overweight) display higher risks of developing breast cancer than their healthy counterparts. In postmenopausal women, a 5-unit increase in BMI is associated with a 12% increase in breast cancer risk. Postmenopausal women who are obese have a 20-40% increased risk in developing breast cancer when compared to women of normal weight. Being overweight or obese can also increase one’s risk for developing recurrent breast cancer in women who have previously had the disease.
This risk tethered to increased body fat is because fat cells create estrogen. Having a surplus of fat cells in the body leads to higher estrogen concentrations in the blood, promoting the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.
Fitness can play a pivotal role in combatting breast cancer as well. Exercising for 4-7 hours per week has been linked to decreased risks of breast cancer. Physical activity is also known to burn and control blood sugar. This limits the concentration of insulin growth factor, a hormone that can impact the development of breast cells. Exercising also helps to reduce fat concentration, effectively reducing the amount of estrogen produced by these cells as previously mentioned.
Breastfeeding is also known to decrease one’s risk of developing breast cancer, particularly if breastfeeding is done for over a year. Women who do so for less than a year see a lesser benefit, which is more common in the U.S. Breastfeeding improves overall breast health, being that constant milk production limits the breast cells’ ability to become malignant. Also, most women menstruate less while breastfeeding, not to mention that they are not menstruating for nine months during pregnancy. The result is lower estrogen levels in women who are breastfeeding, therefore less perpetuation of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Furthermore, women tend to eat and live healthier while breastfeeding. This healthier diet and limiting of tobacco and alcohol use leads to less breast cancer risk.