“Although there is no single factor identified as the cause of breast cancer, studies have shown that obesity and lack of physical activity increase a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer,” says Dr Dennis Citrin, a medical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America Midwestern Regional Medical Center (Midwestern). He adds that recent data has shown that high grade triple negative breast cancer (a biologically aggressive type) is more common in overweight women.
What This Means, Weight Wise
The risk all comes down to one major factor: estrogen. Fat cells are responsible for the production of estrogen; extra fat means excess estrogen. Being overweight also increases the risk of recurrence of cancer. This link between weight and breast cancer depends on many other factors, such as the location of the fat (the stomach region is worse than the thigh, for instance), and whether a woman is pre- or post-menopausal.
Also, women who gained weight as adults but weren’t overweight in their childhood have a higher risk of getting cancer.
Minimize Your Risks
Overweight women are generally defined as those having a BMI (body mass index) over 25.
- The first step would be to talk to your doctor about your ideal weight and decide on a safe plan to work towards it.
- “A woman can reduce her risk of breast cancer by eating a diet low in calories and participating in regular-moderate exercise,” says Citrin.
- He also recommends eating a diet low in animal fat, avoiding cigarettes and tobacco, drinking little to no alcohol, and getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D and calcium.
- To reduce breast cancer risk, the American Cancer Society recommends moderate to vigorous activity for 45-60 minutes, at least five days a week. This includes moderately intense (brisk walking and yoga) and vigorous (jogging, cross-country skiing, and aerobic dance) exercise.
- Also, formal exercise that includes walking programs, swimming, cardio workouts can give you a sustained workout, as can housework or gardening activities.
- They also urge women to reduce the amount they sit in a day, even if they’re exercising.
Studies have shown that women who engage in regular physical activity can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by at least 20–30%.
“Physical activity has a way of better controlling the extra storage of energy through energy expenditure, thus lessening the fat storage in the body, which in turn lessens storage of estrogen in the adipose tissues,” says Stanislav Maravilla, Director of Rehabilitation Services at CTCA at Midwestern.
Breast Cancer: The Prevention Diet
“We must control our diets if the EQ (estrogen quotient) is to be balanced. We should use supplements and exercise to lower estrogen production,” says Cammi Balleck, health expert and traditional naturopath.
Dos & Don’ts Checklist
- Count your calories to aid your weight-loss plan.
- Include lean meat or poultry in your meals every day.
- Fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (one-third or less, should include meat and dairy products) that keep you full for longer should make it to your plate as well.
- Beverages must include non-fat milk and dairy products, water, and drinks with no added sugars.
- Snack healthy with fat-free or low-fat dressings on salads, carrots and celery sticks, apple slices, rice cakes, etc.
- Limit your intake of heavily salted, smoked, or pickled foods.
- Avoid foods like refined sugars, white bread, pasta.
Eating lean meats and fish, and fresh vegetables and fruits can keep your insulin levels steady throughout the day. If you must drink, ensure you get enough folic acid (at least 400 mcg per day) through folate in foods such as leafy greens, peas, dried beans, enriched cereals and whole-grain products or through multivitamins. When it comes to cooking or eating out, stick to healthy preps and ditch the sauces.
“As body fat is reduced, the estrogen conversion will reduce as well,” concludes Balleck.