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How to Naturally Reduce your Risk of Breast Cancer

Updated on April 20, 2015

Breast cancer is a complex disease that can arise from genetically inherited factors, as well as from the non-inherited genetic changes that occur with environmental, hormonal, and lifestyle factors.

Only 5-10% of all breast cancers are linked to genetically inherited factors.

That leaves 90-95% that are linked to diet, environment and lifestyle.

There are a number of identified risk factors associated with this remaining 90-95% of breast cancers. These associated factors include:

  1. poor diet and weight gain
  2. lack of exercise
  3. exposure to toxic chemicals in household products
  4. exposure to toxic environmental chemicals
  5. smoking
  6. amount of sleep and sleep cycle
  7. alcohol
  8. hormonal therapy
  9. stress

The good news is that most of these can be addressed and controlled. The World Cancer Research Fund suggests that at least 42% of the breast cancers today can be prevented with proper diet and exercise.

Add in reducing stress, getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol, avoiding smoking, secondhand smoke and exposure to specific classes of environmental chemicals, and the number of preventable breast cancers may easily reach 50-70%.

Changes in diet and exercise, getting adequate amounts of sleep, and reducing exposure to toxic chemicals can go along way to reduce the risk and help prevent breast cancer on an individual basis.

Changes in diet can reduce breast cancer risk

Most studies have found that breast cancer is less common in countries where the average diet is low in fat.

High-fat diets can lead to being overweight or obese, which is a breast cancer risk factor.

Low-fat diets and diets rich in plant-based phytonutrients and antioxidants have been shown to naturally reduce cancer risk.

According to the American Cancer Society, no study has yet shown that taking vitamins or supplements reduce breast cancer risk which suggests that obtaining important vitamins and nutrients naturally through whole foods and unprocessed foods is the best way to naturally fight inflammation and disease, including breast cancer (chronic inflammation can lead to cancer).

There are also a number of foods, like broccoli sprouts, that can help fight cancer before it even gets underway.

Avoiding toxic chemicals in the environment

Research has found parabens that have estrogen-like properties are concentrated in some breast cancer tumors. Parabens are used in a number of health care products, including many shampoos, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.

Some additional chemicals found in plastics, certain cosmetics and personal care products, pesticides, and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) have also been linked to breast cancer.

One such example is BPA (bisphenol A). It is an endocrine-disrupting chemical recently been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. BPA commonly leaches from plastics, including plastic water bottles and the lining of canned foods. It's also be found to transfer from sales receipts to the hands of those that handle receipts frequently.


Avoid smoking and secondhand tobacco smoke

Early studies had suggested that there was not a link between cigarette smoking and breast cancer.

However, in recent years, research suggests that smoking may increase the risk of breast cancer, particularly for women who started smoking when they were young (California Environmental Protection Agency, 2005).

Smoking has been associated with more breast cancer deaths. According to a study by UCSF epidemiologist Dejana Braithwaite, PhD, women with breast cancer who smoke or who have smoked in the past are much less likely to survive the disease.

Chemicals in tobacco smoke have been found in breast tissue and breast milk. Both firsthand and secondhand smoke contain chemicals that, in high concentrations have been shown to cause breast cancer in mice.


The amount of sleep and changes in sleep cycle affects risk

Getting an adequate amount of sleep is critical for reducing the risk of several diseases, including cancer. The body goes into a "repair" mode during sleep. There is a built in biochemical process that allows the body to repair daily DNA damage during the sleep cycle. Not getting enough sleep or disrupting the sleep cycle can affect this process.

Sleep deprivation has also been shown to be a cause of weight gain which, in turn, also increases the risk for breast cancer.

In addition, the sleep cycle itself has been shown to be important. Several studies have suggested that women who work at night or the graveyard shift may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Scientists think that the effect may be due to changes in levels of melatonin, a hormone whose production is affected by exposure to light.

Controlling other risk factors

Alcohol has been associated with an increase risk of breast cancer. One or two drinks each day has been shown to increase the risk and that risk increases even more when several drinks are consumed daily. Drinking in moderation is a very simple and natural approach to reducing that risk.

Stress has been linked to not only breast cancer but, other cancers and diseases as well. It has been estimated that over 90% of all diseases are linked in some way to stress. Stress can lead to weight gain, poor eating habits and poor sleeping habits - all of which, in turn, are cancer risks.

Women considering hormonal therapy should discuss the risks with their doctor. HRT (Hormonal Replacement Therapy) commonly used during menopause should be carefully considered, the benefits and risks weighted, and alternatives discussed.

Additional Reading

Science Daily, August 2012. Lack of Sleep Found to Be a New Risk Factor for Aggressive Breast Cancers.

Darbre et. al. 2004. J. Appl. Toxicology Vol. 24:5-13. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours.


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    • Payal N Naik profile image

      Payal N Naik 2 years ago from Mumbai

      Very great information!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @DDE - thanks for stopping by. I hope that in our lifetime we eventually see the breast cancer rates go down with more prevention!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @Jools99 - thanks for stopping by and adding to the comments:)

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      So true breast cancer be avoided if women address their issues appropriately, a well explained hub and most helpful to all women, a must read. Voted up!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Kris, very useful and interesting hub. All women should make themselves aware of the risks. We can all do out best to stay healthy and be aware of environmental risks too. Voted up etc.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @FolliediVetro - I am sorry for your loss. I watched a good friend and mentor fight colon cancer for a few years and she lost the battle. That was so hard to watch. I can leave family and friends feeling so helpless.

    • FolliediVetro profile image

      Lily 5 years ago from Malta

      My father past away last year for a cancer,it's a bad bad fight.

    • StephSev108 profile image

      Stephanie Marie Severson 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thanks for the great info! I voted up.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      Very useful hub and mostly I find what you've written reassuring. My mother had breast cancer 25 years ago and is still alive and well with no recurrence, but I have wondered about the genetic aspect of it. It's reassuring to read that they account for a very small proportion: my mother has been overweight since her teens, whereas I am on the thin side, and am careful to avoid xenoestrogens etc.

      Voted up and useful.

    • profile image

      ignugent17 5 years ago

      It is always good to know how to make our body healthy. Great information and very helpful. :-)

    • JaimePage profile image

      Jaime 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for writing such an informative article - great hub! I voted up!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Great hub and pointing out that with a few simple things we can reduce our risk. So many people just eat, drink and be merry until a problem hits. Worthy of a huge UP and sharing.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      @billybuc - thanks for stopping by! It's amazing how many factors are now known t contribute to this disease and I do hope that many women will benefit and be proactive with their health!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting Kris, and oh so important. Great information, and I hope you get tons of views for this important message.