Reducing Breast Cancer Risk Through Lifestyle

  • October 12, 2020
  • by Diane Duvall
Dr. Geni Abraham

One of the most common types of cancer for women in the United States is breast cancer. This cancer can also affect men, though only about one percent of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. occur in men. Some risk factors such as family history or inheriting mutations to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 can’t be changed. While these individuals should work with their healthcare provider for early screenings, this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily going to develop it. Most women who have breast cancer have no family history, and only about 10% of those diagnosed have a family history of breast cancer. There are lifestyle changes that we can all make to lower our risk and help prevent breast cancer. A healthy lifestyle can also help women with breast cancer to better tolerate treatment.

Cells become cancer cells largely because of mutations in their genes. Even healthy genes in individuals can become changed (mutated) during the course of a lifetime. Are there things we can do to strengthen our immune system and turn on the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer? It is true that there are people who followed healthy habits their entire lives and did eventually develop cancer. And while we can’t modify the number one risk factor for cancer which is age, it’s important that we diligently focus on the risk factors that we can modify and lifestyle choices we can make to reduce the risk of breast cancer. These include:

Reduce Exposure to Toxins.  From harmful ingredients in our food to too much stress in our daily lives our body can become overburdened with toxins. Although we can’t live in a bubble, it is important to develop an awareness and reduce toxic exposure when possible.

  • Avoid plastics and toxins in personal care products and household cleaning supplies. These products contain endocrine disrupting substances that can disturb the body’s hormones.
  • Don’t smoke. Evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk. 
  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol is a known carcinogen and the more one drinks, the higher the risk. It is recommended to limit intake to less than one drink per day. Even small amounts can increase risk. Drinking too much alcohol also reduces the liver’s ability to carry out its normal functions, such as detoxifying. Detoxification, the removal of toxic substances from the body, is mainly carried out by the liver.
  • Reduce exposure to pesticides in the home and choose organic foods whenever possible.
  • Toxic emotions can take a toll on our body. Be aware of negative thinking and emotions such as unforgiveness, fear, anger, jealousy, anger, etc. Let go of things that don’t benefit you.
  • Control the burdens one carries. Share the load with others.

Maximize Clearance of Toxins.  Living a healthy, detox-focused lifestyle will equip the body to handle unwanted substances and be able to remove toxins from our system. Healing tools to help our body naturally detoxify include:

  • Eating a balanced diet including antioxidant rich foods
  • Assuring adequate water intake
  • Incorporating Epsom salt baths, aromatherapy, trying a sauna or steam room (toxic chemicals are released through sweat)
  • Exercising
  • Focusing on rest and proper sleep
  • Enjoying antioxidant rich green or black teas, and including herbs/spices such as cinnamon, cumin, ginger, oregano, or turmeric.
  • Making time for more joy in your life. Journaling, prayer, yoga, laughter.

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Follow a Healthy Diet.  The best foods for breast health are those that supply ample nutrients and promote overall wellness. Choose foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  Include a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. Research shows that women eating a Mediterranean diet, including extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer. This diet consists of whole foods that contain large amounts of fiber. Enjoy flavoring foods with a variety of herbs and spices which can help stimulate the immune system and help prevent cancer. Limit excess sugar and processed foods which can weaken the immune system. It may be equally important to cut out sugary beverages, processed meats and fried food. Stay well hydrated with water.

Exercise Regularly.  Moving your body every day is important for breast health. This can include activities such as walking, light jogging, swimming, bike riding, weightlifting, yoga, Pilates and more. Many studies show that physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer than inactive women. A meta-analysis of multiple studies found that the most physically active women had a 12 – 21% lower risk of breast cancer than inactive women. Exercise strengthens the body’s immune system which is important for helping kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Physical activity can also help to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase cancer risk in many ways. One way is that excess weight causes the body to make and circulate more estrogen and insulin, hormones that can stimulate cancer growth. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. Also include strength training at least twice a week.

Counteract the Effects of Stress.  Stress can greatly affect how our body’s systems function. Short term stress, such as preparing for an exam tends to lessen as the event passes. But long-term or chronic stress is more damaging and can increase our risk of almost all diseases, including cancer. Mindfulness meditation, prayer, and yoga have been proven to combat stress. Maintaining mental peace and a positive outlook are critical for preserving health and preventing cancer. Consider starting a gratitude journal. The act of recognizing and expressing gratitude has been linked to decreased stress levels, stronger immune systems and increased feelings of joy. Other ways to relieve stress include exercise, spending time with friends and family, using aromatherapy or getting a massage. Getting eight hours of sleep each night is a great defense against stress. A full night’s sleep is essential for proper immune function, detoxification, and cellular health.

Breast-feed.  There is strong evidence that breastfeeding decreases the risk of breast cancer in the mother. In general, the greater the number of months that women continue breastfeeding their babies, the greater the protective effect.

Taking Hormones.  According to the CDC some forms of hormone replacement therapy that include estrogen and progesterone can increase breast cancer risk when taken for more than five years during menopause. Certain birth control pills have also been found to raise breast cancer risk. It is best to discuss the pros and cons of hormone therapy with your health care provider.

Following a healthy lifestyle can make a difference to the risk of developing breast cancer. Although breast cancer screening can’t prevent breast cancer, it is important to have regular screenings for the early detection of breast cancer. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for when to begin mammograms and other screenings based on your individual needs and history.

-Diane Duvall, Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine.  Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Atlantis FL 33462.  Phone: (561) 432-8935, Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook: Dr. Geni Abraham

Resources: 

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/screening.htm

https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-myths/if-you-have-a-family-history-of-breast-cancer-you-are-likely-to-develop-breast-cancer-too/  

https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/how-stress-affects-cancer-risk.h21-1589046.html

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm#:~:text=Taking%20hormones.,to%20raise%20breast%20cancer%20risk.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6069526/   

https://www.everettclinic.com/departments/surgery/breast-surgery/lifestyle-changes-reduce-breast-cancer-risk

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59cc1361d55b418d5fcbadc6/t/5c2940d5b8a0456c72c68d1a/1546207448994/Practicing-Gratitude-with-the-IFM-Gratitude-Journal.pdf

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/breast-cancer-prevention/art-20044676

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752894/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12897329/  

https://www.whatisepigenetics.com/epigenetics-nutrition-health-eat-affect-tags-dna/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24781974/ and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23771716/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4324293/

https://thesleepdoctor.com/2019/01/08/how-does-sleep-affect-our-cancer-risk/

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/lack-sleep-increases-your-risk-some-cancers

https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/exposures/lactation-breastfeeding

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4881189/

https://www.mhs.net/news/2016/09/cancer-fighting-herbs-and-spices

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/alcohol-use-and-cancer.html

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/genetics/genes-and-cancer/gene-changes.html 

https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/study-on-olive-oil-raises-questions

https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/preventing-cancer/mediterranean-diet-linked-to-lower-breast-cancer-risk

https://ww5.komen.org/Breastcancer/Lackofexercise.html

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/physical-activity-fact-sheet 

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