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10 Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk With or Without a Family History

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, a lot of campaigns emphasize early detection.

Early detection and awareness are fabulous! But what about prevention or reducing your risk?

If you have a family history of breast cancer, know this… your genes ARE NOT your destiny.  Think of this comparison:  Your genes are like a loaded gun; your lifestyle pulls the trigger. 

And if you don’t have a family history, remember… 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer had no one else in their family with the disease.  Which leads back to lifestyle. Our modern-day lifestyles are putting us at risk for increased rates of breast cancer despite genetic predisposition.

There are tons of things you can do to reduce your risk and many of those changes can be simple, EASY also.  Don’t let the thought or worry of cancer make you feel powerless- you possess the power of prevention in the choices you make every day. 

The majority of these recommendations not only can reduce your breast cancer risk but are also health-promoting overall.  They focus on reducing inflammation in your entire body, decreasing insulin resistance, balancing hormone levels, promoting natural detoxification, and fostering the mind-body connection that is so vital for healing but forgotten too often in conventional medicine.

  1. Eat the rainbow!  Phytonutrients (the compounds that give the color) in fruits and vegetables are natural antioxidants, reduce inflammation, improve your gut health, boost your immune system, balance your hormones, improve insulin resistance, provide vital nutrients, and the list could go on and on.  Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, all classified as cruciferous vegetables, are particularly good at helping balance hormone levels through liver detox.
  2. Eat healthy fats.  Cook with ones like olive oil and avocado oil.  Eat nuts like walnuts, almonds, and pecans.  Fish also has great amounts of healthy omega fatty acids.  Avoid fast food which uses unhealthy oils that promote inflammation and insulin resistance like canola oil, soybean oil, and palm oil. 
  3. Cut back on your alcohol intake.  Daily alcohol use significantly increases breast cancer risk¹.  Alcohol causes inflammation in our bodies and can also cause an imbalance/increase in estrogen.
  4. Exercise!  Moving your body is such a powerful form of medicine.  It could be walking or running, quiet yoga or power yoga, focused weight lifting or high intensity interval training.  Whatever it is you enjoy, just move.  Exercise helps to reduce blood glucose levels and respond to natural insulin better because your cells need energy.  You will sleep better and feel less stressed.  Exercise also helps to burn visceral fat (the fat inside your belly whether you can tell it’s there or not) which reduces inflammation.
  5. Get at least 7 hours of sleep.  This may be very hard for some people where we are staying up late watching TV, on our phones, or going to bed late after getting stuff done at home.  Poor sleep reduces your immune function and increases stress levels².  It also does not give your body enough time to repair itself. 
  6. Be aware of stress.  When you are stressed, take 5 minutes.  Meditate or do something relaxing like focused breathing, massage your hands or neck, close your eyes and envision a place you love.  Now take these 5 minutes and do it every day even when you are not stressed out. You’ll notice a difference in how you perceive stress and feel in those crazy moments.
  7. Breastfeed your babies when possible.  But remember, any way you feed your baby is great, you love them and are taking care of them.  Studies show women who have breastfed have lower rates of cancer³.
  8. Be aware of endocrine disruptors in your body, beauty and household products.  Many components in these products are absorbed through our skin and inhalation, then they mimic estrogen in our bodies.  Try to buy and use “clean” products.  You can refer to some of our detox blog posts for more information on these ingredients.
  9. Vitamins D, C, A and selenium have shown to protect from breast cancer with antioxidant support and helping our bodies detoxify naturally⁴,,⁶.
  10. Lose weight.  I listed this one at the end, because many of the above recommendations will help you do so without even realizing it!  Increased BMI’s and obesity have been linked to increased breast cancer rates⁷.  But also, many of these patients probably have high levels of inflammation and insulin resistance due to their excess weight.

After reviewing this list, don’t feel overwhelmed.  Small changes lead to big outcomes.  Pick one or two easily attainable goals and start there.  After you feel solid in those areas of change, add on another one.  You don’t have to achieve the entire list; any combination of these recommendations will help to decrease your risk of breast cancer and get you on the path to feeling great!

Written by Dr. Jessica Orloski, PharmD

References

1. Rustagi AS, Scott CG, Winham SJ, Brandt KR, Norman AD, Jensen MR, Shepherd JA, Hruska C, Heine JJ, Pankratz VS, Kerlikowske K, Vachon CM. Association of Daily Alcohol Intake, Volumetric Breast Density, and Breast Cancer Risk. JNCI Cancer Spectr. 2021 Feb 4;5(2):pkaa124.

2. Dolsen MR, Crosswell AD, Prather AA. Links Between Stress, Sleep, and Inflammation: Are there Sex Differences? Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2019 Feb 7;21(2):8.

3. Unar-Munguía M, Torres-Mejía G, Colchero MA, González de Cosío T. Breastfeeding Mode and Risk of Breast Cancer: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis. J Hum Lact. 2017 May;33(2):422-434.

4. Harris HR, Orsini N, Wolk A. Vitamin C and survival among women with breast cancer: a meta-analysis. Eur J Cancer. 2014 May;50(7):1223-31.

5. Mokbel K, Mokbel K. Chemoprevention of Breast Cancer With Vitamins and Micronutrients: A Concise Review. In Vivo. 2019 Jul-Aug;33(4):983-997.

6. Fontelles CC, Ong TP. Selenium and Breast Cancer Risk: Focus on Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms. Adv Cancer Res. 2017;136:173-192.

7. Kang C, LeRoith D, Gallagher EJ. Diabetes, Obesity, and Breast Cancer. Endocrinology. 2018 Nov 1;159(11):3801-3812.

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