Part III Breast Cancer – Know the risk factors you can change!

breast cancer prevention



We will look at modifiable risk factors today.

Let me give you a perfect example that could have been probably prevented.  I lived in a home with 2 great parents who built my childhood foundation which made me in the end when leaving home became a good community citizen asset to America. I am a RN for over 31 years, a person teaching and caring for others from burn units to oncology to Med. Surg to step down ICU to ICU to Surgical ICU to Recovery Rooms to Visiting Nurse to helping our veterans as a cardiac coordinator RN for the VA, to Hospice and finally returning back to Cardiac – telemetry including PCU CARDIAC units. I now am a employee RN in NYC on a telemetry unit to vast other floors when needed from a traveling RN that has gone from the East NY/NJ/Virginia to California hospitals.

My father was 62 years old when died.  He had a wonderful marriage and 4 great kids. He was a hard working man who married into a happy life that ended up going to disability at 54 thanks to smoking from childhood into adulthood (plus he lived not on the lowest fat diet in the world) and stayed on that diet till becoming a cardiac patient at about 53 (He loved Hellman’s Mayo and chocolate with whole milk). His father died early at 62 years old of a heart attack; but still he became a smoker young and pretty much watched his weight but only real healthy till 54 when put on disability due to his heart. He kept himself in a good workout regime and good diet at that point with still working odd jobs here and there for extra money to pay the bills at 54. At 62 was in the hospital for pancreatitis that further was diagnosed to Pancreatic Cancer having the whipple surgery done and went to Columbia Presbyterian NYC for chemo that May which ended in August/September that year since it did very little and turned him into a stick. He was buried before that Christmas.   Tragic? Yes Preventable? High probability.  That is the theme of this article.

With high probability my father got this was due to many years of cigarette smoking 1/2 or 1 pack a day (many pancreatic cancer patients are smokers or former smokers). Those with this history are 2x more at risk of getting this cancer. Most people diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer are over 60, which my father was.  Other risks for this cancer are diets with high red meat for your meals puts you at more of a risk which he was most of his life (on red meats till a cardiac patient) and his gender didn’t help him (more men have it than women). My father wasn’t an alcoholic but on weekends had his beer. Alcohol puts you at risk as well in particular for chronic pancreatitis (commonly seen in alcoholics); in my father’s case it was his first time that year diagnosed with it.  From my personal stand point I see his smoking, diet (high red meats most of his life) with his gender that didn’t help putting him at  a lower risk for getting the disease.

My point, PREVENTION is the key to stopping cancer. That would be through modifiable risk control.   Modifiable risks to breast cancer we can control and those factors are:

Weight. Being overweight is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, especially for women after menopause. Fat tissue is the body’s main source of estrogen after menopause, when the ovaries stop producing the hormone. Having more fat tissue means having higher estrogen levels, which can increase breast cancer risk.

Diet. Studies are looking at the relationship between diet and breast cancer risk and the risk of recurrence. The Women’s Health Initiative Trial suggested that a diet very low in fat may reduce the risk of breast cancer. More research is needed in this important area for women who are interested in eating well to reduce their risk of ever getting breast cancer.

In the meantime, here’s what dietitians suggest:

  • Keep your body weight in a healthy range for your height and frame. Body mass index, though not a perfect measurement, can help you estimate your healthy weight.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit (more than 5 cups a day).
  • Try to limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your total calories per day and limit your fat intake to about 30 grams per day.
  • Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Avoid trans fats, processed meats, and charred or smoked foods.

You’ll find that processed foods generally don’t fit in this type of diet as well as fresh foods do. For more information, visit our page on healthy eating to reduce risk of breast cancer in the Nutrition section.

Exercise. Evidence is growing that exercise can reduce breast cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 45-60 minutes of physical exercise 5 or more days a week.

Alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that breast cancer risk increases with the amount of alcohol a woman drinks. Alcohol can limit your liver’s ability to control blood levels of the hormone estrogen, which in turn can increase risk.

Smoking. Smoking is associated with a small increase in breast cancer risk.

Exposure to estrogen. Because the female hormone estrogen stimulates breast cell growth, exposure to estrogen over long periods of time, without any breaks, can increase the risk of breast cancer. Some of these risk factors are under your control, such as:

  • taking combined hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone; HRT) for several years or more, or taking estrogen alone for more than 10 years
  • being overweight
  • regularly drinking alcohol

Recent oral contraceptive use. Using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) appears to slightly increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer, but only for a limited period of time. Women who stopped using oral contraceptives more than 10 years ago do not appear to have any increased breast cancer risk.

Stress and anxiety. There is no clear proof that stress and anxiety can increase breast cancer risk. However, anything you can do to reduce your stress and to enhance your comfort, joy, and satisfaction can have a major effect on your quality of life. So-called “mindful measures” (such as meditation, yoga, visualization exercises, and prayer) may be valuable additions to your daily or weekly routine. Some research suggests that these practices can strengthen the immune system.

The National Cancer Institute estimates an outstanding 80% of cancer in America is do to our lifestyles particularly DIET and EXERCISE. That includes Breast Cancer. I am not saying it is the only reason but a large percentage has to do with it and with changing it to a healthy one if your diet is not already including your exercise it lowers the probability for a large amount of people in America from getting cancer.  This principle also pertains to many other diseases (Ex. Obesity, High blood pressure, Diabetes, etc…)

Breast cancer is a polygenic and multifactorial disease for which estrogens have been recognized as the main risk factor, and for which lifestyle plays a key role. Previous epidemiologic cancer research performed in Uruguayan population delimited its dietary and anthropometric profiles (use for identification, use for the purposes of understanding human physical variation and in various attempts to correlate physical with racial and psychological traits). Recognizing the difficulty for universalizing a nutritional basis for prevention due to different eating patterns among regions and countries, what was summarized was the existent knowledge linking nutrition, estrogens, metabolism and Breast Cancer. As an attempt towards primary prevention of Breast Cancer, present recommendations mainly based on country-specific research findings and modifiable putative risk and protective factors, proposing to modify the intake of meats and other fatty foods – especially sources of Ω-6 and Ω-3 fatty acids – adding olive oil, selected vegetables, citrus fruits and working towards adequate body fat/muscle proportions. From a medical and ethical viewpoint, it is justified to recommend certain nutritional changes to women, because no adverse side effects are expected to occur.

There is evidence for an inverse association between physical activity and breast cancer risk. The evidence is stronger for postmenopausal breast cancer than for premenopausal breast cancer.

The National Cancer Institute is that 80 percent of all cancers is due to our lifestyles. For some who are already active and eating healthy your already ahead of many in prevention of cancer but for those who don’t you dramatically alter your risks going towards higher probability of possibility getting cancer. If your one of those people I have great news this risk is controllable and you can fix it.

The modifiable risk factors are ones like your eating and exercise, which you have full control of. I am not saying become a weight lifter or workout in a gym 4 x/wk if you don’t now. What I am saying is increase your activity with some exercise like walking a mile a day or what you can tolerate and increase your exercise overtime.  If you get yourself up to 2 to 5 miles a day, great! If you become a regular at the gym or weight lifter great but you don’t have to go to that extreme of being a Sylvester Stallone.

Come back for Part IV on Breast Cancer covering “the seven warning signs of cancer”, risk factors for getting cancers, cultures differences of breast cancer in other countries and where we have gone in the past 35 years with research and why breast cancer is the the second leading killer in America.


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