Breast Cancer is a common disease, affecting approximately 1 in 8 women and approximately 1 in 1000 men over a lifetime. As a breast surgeon, I focus not only on the treatment of disease, but also factors that can help to reduce the risk of disease development. Having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk, but many of those diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any family history of the disease. Unfortunately in any one individual, it is usually not possible to say exactly why breast cancer developed, but we are becoming more aware of the effects of lifestyle and environmental influences on the development of cancer as well as other diseases. A healthy lifestyle does not equal prevention, but here are some facts regarding breast cancer:
- Postmenopausal women who are overweight have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, and if they’ve been treated for breast cancer, their risk of recurrence is increased if they are overweight
- Moderate exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer development as well as the risk of recurrent disease
- A high fat diet has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer
- More than 3-6 alcoholic drinks per week in women is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer
- Exposure to some environmental toxins, such as BPA, has been linked to breast cancer development in laboratory animals. The link between breast cancer and various chemicals is the subject of intense research and there are many conflicting studies. Until we have firm data however, it does seem prudent to limit your exposure to toxic chemicals whenever possible.
Unfortunately is is possible to do everything “right” and still develop breast cancer – currently the best we can do right now is risk reduction, not prevention. The reality is that breast cancer and many other diseases are caused by multiple factors – this is why studies evaluating methods of risk reduction are so difficult. It is also why the studies that pop up every so often regarding the benefits of a particular nutrient or extract need to be placed in proper perspective – it’s usually not that simple.
My recommendation for all of my patients, not just those with breast cancer, is to simply take good care of yourself. As we age, our bodies become less tolerant of the effects of lack of sleep, heavy alcohol intake, chronic stress, and the dietary habits that we had when we were in our 20’s. Our bodies have changed, and we have to change our habits if we want to try to stay healthy. Here are some guidelines:
- A low fat (not no fat!!) diet – focus on the healthy fats such as olive oil, salmon, walnuts, avocados
- A plant-based diet – focus on lots of greens and veggies of all colors, as well as fruits. You may feel it’s easier to take your fruits and veggies in pill form, but while you may be getting some of the vitamins and extracts, the way the real foods interact is very complex (cancer development is a similarly complex process) and cannot be replicated in a pill. Trace nutrients that we may not even know about will also be missing, as well as fiber, not to mention the wonderful taste of properly prepared, fresh, real food! A periodic splurge is also fine – life is too short to go without chocolate – just focus on quality. There is no one particular food known to reduce the risk of cancer development.
- Animal protein is ok, just consider the source and eat in moderation
- Don’t forget non-animal sources of protein such as legumes and quinoa
- Moderation in alcohol intake – 3-6 drinks per week (and no, you can’t save up your week’s “allowance” for Friday night…)
- Moderate exercise – it’s ok if you can’t make it through a spinning class like you did 10 years ago – a good 30 minute walk once a day is fine. If you need that endorphin rush of strenuous activity, make sure to balance it with some more meditative exercise such as yoga or pilates
- Proper sleep – we all need 7-9 hours a night, period. Our bodies repair themselves during sleep, and you can’t just “catch up” on the weekends. Those that catch me on-line after 10pm pacific time – feel free to call me out on this one!
- Meditation / Reflection – it is so very important to take some time each day to reflect on what is good in your life – having a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the good things will help make it easier to get through the tough times. This can be as formal or informal as you want, it’s just important to fit this in somewhere.
Hopefully this gives you something to think about and some motivation. Just remember that you’re not making diet and lifestyle changes only for breast cancer risk reduction – these are steps that can also make you a healthier and happier person.
For specific health reasons, I have been gluten-free for several years. I do not think that this is the right diet for everyone, but for those who are interested, I’ve included some guest blog posts that I wrote a few years ago about my experiences:
Dr. Attai does not provide online medical advice. The information provided is for general information only.
No online site should be used as a substitute for personal medical attention.