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).
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