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One-Third of Breast Cancer Cases May Be Prevented with These Three Things

breast cancer and exercise

Pink is everywhere! October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and today we bring awareness to the steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing the disease.


Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, after skin cancer. About 1 in 8 US women – or about 12% - will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, per statistics from BreastCancer.org.

Only about 5-10% of breast cancer cases can be linked to genetic mutations, with mutation in the BRCA genes being the most common. The remaining 85% of cases occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. In some cases, lifestyle factors may be a factor.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that potentially one-third of breast cancer cases could be prevented with these three things – weight control, exercise, and cutting back on alcohol.

About 20% of breast cancer cases are due to excess body fat. The reason is complex. First, fat tissue contains an enzyme called aromatase that converts hormones called androgens (made in the adrenal glands) to estrogens. Therefore, heavier women have higher blood estrogen levels that leaner women.

In addition, women who are heavier also tend to have higher levels of circulating insulin. There are studies that link elevated insulin levels and breast cancer.

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A low-fat, Mediterranean-style diet appears to be the best choice for weight loss and breast cancer prevention.

Exercise is also important for weight control, but it may also independently play a role in breast cancer prevention. It not only helps lower blood sugar levels and preventing insulin resistance, but it also helps to boost the immune system. It is recommended for all women to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week (at least 5 out of 7).

Thirdly, women should either avoid alcohol all together or drink in moderation – which is the equivalent of one drink per day. Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with some types of cancer. It may also increase risk by damaging DNA in cells.

A past study shows that, compared to women who don't drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day.

"While there are no guarantees when it comes to developing cancer, what we do know is that women can take steps every day to reduce the odds of developing breast cancer, along with many other cancers and chronic disease," said Alice Bender, head of nutrition programs at AICR.

American Institute of Cancer Research
Susan G. Komen Foundation

Photo Credit:
By Narek75 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons