Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women (except for skin cancers). One in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime with an estimated 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2017. "With these sobering statistics, a very common question is 'How can I decrease my breast cancer risk?' There are many unavoidable risk factors for breast cancer including gender, age, family history, genetics, personal history of breast cancer, prior radiation to the chest, menstrual and pregnancy history, race/ethnicity, and certain breast changes. However, there are also several modifiable breast cancer risk factors that women can focus on to decrease their risk of breast cancer and to live a healthier life," explains Eleonora Teplinsky, M.D., Director, Breast Medical Oncology, Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care.
- Drinking alcohol is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer
- Any amount of alcohol can increase breast cancer risk, but the risk starts to increase significantly with three drinks or more a week
- Studies have shown a 10 percent increase in risk with each 10 grams per day of alcohol intake (one drink has approximately 14 grams of alcohol)
- There is an association between smoking and increased breast cancer risk, but more research into this is needed
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 30 kg/m2) is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women
- Women who have gained 10 kg (22 pounds) or more since menopause also have an increased risk of breast cancer compared to women who maintain their weight
- In premenopausal women, an increased BMI is actually associated with a lower risk of breast cancer
- A Mediterranean diet, consisting of plant foods, fish, and olive oil, may decrease the risk of breast cancer
- There has been a lot of debate about soy-based foods (i.e. edamame, tofu), but recent data shows that soy appears to be safe and may even be beneficial in women diagnosed with breast cancer
- The data on red meat intake and breast cancer risk is controversial, but red meat consumption in moderation is always recommended for other health benefits
- Dairy products are still under study. Large studies have shown no link between dairy products and breast cancer risk after menopause. More research is needed in premenopausal women to draw conclusions about dairy intake and breast cancer risk
- There is no association between caffeine and breast cancer risk
- Vitamin D deficiency may increase breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
BOTTOM LINE: "Abstaining from alcohol and smoking and maintaining a healthy weight after menopause can help to decrease your breast cancer risk. In addition, certain dietary factors and maintaining normal Vitamin D levels may help to decrease your risk further," adds Dr. Teplinsky.
With all of these risk factors in mind, it is also crucial for women to remain up to date on their mammograms to ensure that breast cancer is caught at the earliest possible stage.