5 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risks

Breast cancer risks can be reduced with lifestyle choices

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

We won’t be seeing NFL players wearing pink shoes, gloves, sweatbands, using pink towels and displaying pink ribbons on their helmets for another year now. Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2012 is over.

It’s unthinkable that women – and men – aren’t acutely aware of breast cancer. For many women, even the thought of breast cancer makes them gasp.

What many may not be aware of is what they can do to decrease their risks of this loathsome disease.

Christopher Ruud, MD, a breast cancer specialist with Austin Cancer Centers in Austin, Texas, has been a medical oncologist for more than 25 years. The focus of his practice is educating women not only on breast cancer treatment options, but also healthy living.

We asked Dr. Ruud about what women can do to lower their breast cancer risks.

He began by talking about risk factors in general.

“Only about 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary, Dr. Ruud told dailyRx News. “Age is a major risk, and the incidence of genetic mutations increases with age.”

For those who have a family history of breast cancer, Dr. Ruud said women should be aware that “Blood tests can identify the most common forms of hereditary breast cancer (BRCA1 and 2).”

In his practice, “Rather than testing unaffected family members we test the breast cancer survivor first,” Dr. Ruud said.

So for the average risk individual, what are 5 ways to reduce breast cancer risks?

Dr. Ruud gave us the following tips:

1) Exercise Your Way to a Healthy Weight

“Exercise, with a target of 150 minutes per week, has the strongest association with reducing the occurrence of breast cancer,” Dr. Ruud said.

There’s plenty of evidence everywhere you turn that carrying around too many pounds increases a woman’s risks for breast cancer and many other chronic diseases.

A woman’s weight before diagnosis and after breast cancer treatment affects her risks of recurrence.

And obesity is also tied to a lower life expectancy for women who have battled breast cancer.

“Exercise and control of weight are the two most important factors,” Dr. Ruud said.

2) Avoid Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy

“The Women's Health Initiative confirmed that use of combined estrogen and progesterone tablet after menopause was associated with more cases of breast cancer. And there has been a significant reduction in the use of postmenopausal hormones associated with a reduction in breast cancer incidence (occurrence). Estrogen alone does not increase breast cancer risk," Dr. Ruud said.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force just reaffirmed these recommendations, which it first published in 2002.

Bottom line – the potential harms associated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) outweigh the benefits in most women. Your doctor can advise you further on this topic.

3) Drink in Moderation

“More than 2 drinks of alcohol per day are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer,” Dr. Ruud tells us. He adds that taking folates may reduce this risk.

Folates are B vitamins that help keep the DNA strong enough to avoid genetic changes that can lead to cancer. Beef liver, lentils and spinach are high in folate.

Dr. Ruud says, “You can also take 1 milligram of folic acid per day."

4) Consume lots of soy products

Dr. Ruud says children, adolescents and adult women in Asia may have lower rates of breast cancer due to high soy intake.

Soy products range from edamame (green soybeans), tofu, soy milk/cheese/yogurt to soybean oils, soy grains and soy ‘meats.’

Dr. Ruud points out that women in Asia consume 20+ mg of soy isoflavones daily, while Americans average about 3.2 mg of soy isoflavones each day.

Earlier this year, a meta-analysis of studies conducted in Asia found that “soy food intake is inversely associated with the risk of breast cancer among Asian women.”

And a study published the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that former breast cancer patients who consumed 10+ mg of soy isoflavones a day had a significantly lower risk of recurrence than did their cancer sisters who did not eat soy products regularly.

"But most of the benefit confers to the diet during childhood and adolescence. It is not clear that changing to a high soy diet in adulthood prevents breast cancer," Dr. Ruud pointed out.

5) Keep Vitamin D Levels Normal

“Small studies involving Canadian survivors have shown that vitamin D levels in the normal range reduce relapse of breast cancer.”

“About 15% of central Texas breast cancer survivors have low levels of vitamin D,” he adds. “However, larger studies of women have shown no reduction in breast cancer related to vitamin D," Dr. Ruud said.

Vitamin D levels can be checked with a simple blood test. Ask your doctor if checking your vitamin D levels makes sense for you. 

“After menopause, doctors recommend supplementing the diet with a combination calcium and vitamin D tablet twice a day,” Dr. Ruud said.

These are 5 easy steps to reduce your breast cancer risks.

Talk to your doctor about a breast cancer screening program that makes sense for you and other ways you can be your healthiest best.

Review Date: 
November 1, 2012