Thursday, January 1, 2009

Breast Cancer Part I: Breast Cancer Prevention

I have spent a lot of time thinking about breast cancer lately. This is partly because cancer has affected many people I know, and partly because the news is always a flurry with breast cancer stories.

In an amazing recent article in the New York Times, Gina Kolata reports on a 6-year study conducted in Norway that suggests that some breast cancers may go away on their own. This article also taught readers that most breast cancers begin in milk ducts and can either stay in the milk duct or break through to the rest of the breast.

If breast cancer often originates in milk ducts, we should not be surprised that breastfeeding has been proven to prevent breast cancer. In a well respected review, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that a history of breastfeeding was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. One of the research studies included in their review was a well-conducted meta-analysis consisting of 47 studies in 30 countries. The meta-analysis found that the relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding- regardless of age, family history, and menopausal status. These 12 months of breastfeeding can be for one child or they can be a cumulative total of 12 months for 2 or more children (i.e breastfeeding 3 children for 4 months each). They also found that breast cancer decreased by 7% for each pregnancy. That means that if you follow the AAP guidelines, which recommends breastfeeding each child for at least one year, you will have a total breast cancer risk reduction of 11.3% with EACH child to whom you give birth and breastfeed. Pretty cool.

Although breast cancer is largely determined by genetics,
there are some other lifestyle factors that may help prevent breast cancer:
  • Postmenopausal women should exercise for 30-60 minutes each day
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout adulthood to prevent excess estrogen in the body
  • Avoid excess alcohol
  • Eat a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains (barley, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread), beans/legumes, olive and canola oils, nuts, and safe fatty fish. Also include some soy products in your diet (e.g. tofu, soynuts, tempeh, edamame).
Look out for my upcoming post Breast Cancer Part II, in which I will discuss breastfeeding after breast cancer.

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  1. Nice article Debra, I think a diet rich in vitamin E and omega 3 also is linked to a reduced incidence of breast cancer as evidenced by Asian women who have a low incidence of breast cancer until they emigrate west and adopt a western diet.


  2. Hi mom! Yes, you are absolutely correct- Vitamin E has been shown to prevent oxidative damage to DNA, which can be caused by too many omega-6 fats (e.g. corn oil) and not enough omega-3 fats (e.g. nuts, fish, flax, eggs). Also, fiber might help bind estrogen and therefore reduce circulating estrogen in the blood. So, I still think the general food recommendations I listed above remains true- many fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and olive/canola oils have vitamin E, omega-3 fats, and fiber.

    Specifically, fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin E are: tomatoes, spinach, greens and collards, pumpkin, potatoes/sweet potatoes, pepper, papaya, raspberry, peaches, apricots, and carrots.

    Other foods high in vitamin E are sunflower seeds, white and pinto beans, olive and canola oils, herring, and sardines.

    Luckily, lots of foods have vitamin E, omega 3, and fiber...but if you do not eat any of these foods, I am not against taking a multi-vitamin plus omega-3. Its just that I like going "beyond" the vitamins to include healthy food.

    Thanks mom for allowing me to expound on an important topic and bringing up the Vitamin E issue.

    Certainly no one should adopt our SAD diet when they move here:)

    SAD= Sad American Diet

  3. You ROCK Debra. I love learning from your posts.

  4. New research has shown that malnutrition in the womb changes the structure and function of the body for life, and later makes people vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes and stroke in later life. To learn more buy the book Nutrition in the Womb at

    Check out some more research on breast cancer at


  6. Thank you Justin for that interesting article about hip size, estrogen, and breast cancer. I am aware of the barker hypothesis and the risks of over/under nutrition during pregnancy. I actually wrote about it in one of my first posts. It is one of the reasons why I am passionate about this topic. I refer to it as the fetal origins hypothesis. In a footnote I mention that it is also known as the Barker hypothesis. See that post here:

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