Breast Cancer – Reducing Your Risk

In a previous article, I discussed the recent changes to mammography recommendations.  This week I’ll share what women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

First of all, it is important to acknowledge that cancer statistics are very complicated; the most recent research study may have results that contradict the one before.  This explains why it is easy to get confused by the divergent information about cancer in the news media.  I will try to provide some clarity.

Put simply, being at a healthy weight significantly reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer.  Numerous medical studies indicate that maintaining a health weight (BMI between 20 and 25) is the most important lifestyle factor in affecting breast cancer survival.

The healthiest way of achieving optimal weight is to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and to exercise regularly.  A 2007 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology indicates that breast cancer patients who eat these healthy foods and exercise reduce their risk of dying from their cancer by up to 50%.

While having a glass of wine every day seems to prevent cardiovascular disease and decreases the rate of death from all causes, this amount of alcohol seems to increase breast cancer risk.  If you are concerned about breast cancer because of your personal or family medical history, avoid alcohol.  If cardiovascular disease seems more important, a few glasses of wine can be an enjoyable and healthy choice.

Hormone therapy with estrogen and/or progesterone for menopause increases the risk of women getting breast cancer.  While the increased risk may be small, it is real: a 24% increase in risk.  Natural treatments for menopausal symptoms work well.  Some of the best therapies I recommend include herbs like black cohosh, chaste tree, and St. John’s Wort.  Preliminary research indicates that black cohosh can even be helpful as an add-on treatment for breast cancer.

One of vitamin D’s roles in the body is helping to make sure that cells grow to be healthy and mature.  Because dangerous cancer cells are immature, vitamin D status may be important in all forms of cancer, including breast.  The best way to know your vitamin D level is to get a test from your doctor called 25-OH Vitamin D.  Insufficiency is defined as less than 30ng/mL and optimal levels are about 45ng/mL.  If testing is not available to you, taking 2,000 IU of supplemental vitamin D3 each day is a safe approach.

Be well,
Richard Malik, ND

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