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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is the perfect time to focus on one aspect of breast cancer prevention that every woman can control: lifestyle choices. While some women may have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, there are steps all women can take to decrease the risk of developing the disease.

1. Decrease alcohol consumption. Moderate-to-heavy alcohol consumption has been clearly linked to an increase in developing breast and other cancers.[1] Women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a small (about 7% to 10%) increase in risk compared with non-drinkers, while women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk than non-drinkers.

2. Stop smoking. Smoking tobacco not only increases the risk of breast cancer, but also that of other cancers as well. “Evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women.” [2]

3. Get moving. A sedentary lifestyle is known to be detrimental to one’s overall health and contributes to overweight and obesity, and it also increases the risk of breast cancer. Being physically active can help decrease the risk, especially in post-menopausal women. “Exactly how physical activity might reduce breast cancer risk isn’t clear, but it may be due to its effects on body weight, inflammation, hormones, and energy balance.” [3] In addition, being overweight or obese can lead to higher levels of insulin, which has been linked to several types of cancers.

4. Eat well (and yes, that includes soy). Maintaining a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet, focusing on whole, fresh foods that are free of additives and not highly processed, can also help to decrease the risk of several types of cancers, as well as lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.[4] Moreover, studies now show that the incidence of breast cancer in countries that traditionally consume soy foods has been increasing as their diets become more Westernized.[5] The studies also indicate that soy is most protective against breast cancer when “consumed during childhood and/or adolescence. Case-control studies show higher soy intake early in life is associated with 25% to 60% reductions in risk. . . the clinical data show that soy isoflavones, regardless of the source, and even when exposure greatly exceeds Japanese intake, do not exert harmful effects on breast tissue.”[6] Findings reported in the same meta-analysis specifically and perhaps most profoundly show that for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, consuming soy foods post-diagnosis was associated with a decrease in breast cancer recurrence and mortality. The bottom line: eat your edamame! Eating healthy whole foods that are high in fiber and phytonutrients and good fats benefits breast health and your overall health.

In addition to these lifestyle habits and choices, October is the month that reminds all women to think about a complete breast health plan that includes seeing your physician and getting your recommended breast screenings.

[1] American Cancer Society. Lifestyle-Related Breast Cancer Risk Factors. Cancer.org. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/lifestyle-related-breast-cancer-risk-factors.html.
[2] American Cancer Society. Lifestyle-Related Breast Cancer Risk Factors. Cancer.org. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/lifestyle-related-breast-cancer-risk-factors.html. The American Cancer Society “recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.”  Ibid.
[3] American Cancer Society. Lifestyle-Related Breast Cancer Risk Factors. Cancer.org. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/lifestyle-related-breast-cancer-risk-factors.html. The American Cancer Society “recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.”  Ibid.
[4] Mayo Clinic. Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk. mayoclinic.org. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/breast-cancer-prevention/art-20044676.
[5] Messina, M. Soy and Health Update: Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature. Nutrients. 2016 Dec; 8(12): 754. Retrived from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188409/.
[6] Ibid.

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