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Breast Cancer Empowerment: Key Preventive Actions

Thrive Carolinas / Dietitian Services  / Breast Cancer Empowerment: Key Preventive Actions

Breast Cancer Empowerment: Key Preventive Actions


Prevention is KEY!

Adopting just 3 preventive habits can reduce the likelihood of developing breast cancer by 62% according to a study by the American Institute for Cancer Research on >30,000 postmenopausal women. By knowing which lifestyle changes can have such powerful implications on breast health, you will be empowered to start making positive changes in your health and wellbeing. Below are the top 10 health issues women should be aware of with regard to breast cancer prevention. The first 3 listed have been shown to have the greatest impact. Start there! The staff at Thrive is here to help you as you strive for your best health.

  1. Switch to a Whole Food Plant-Based diet
  2. Reduction of Adipose (body fat)
  3. Limit alcohol
  4. Regular exercise
  5. Incorporate Flaxseed
  6. Vitamin D
  7. Limit exposure to radiation and environmental pollution
  8. Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy
  9. Optimize melatonin levels
  10. Breastfeed

Whole Food – Plant-based diet:

Optimal nutrition is critical for health and wellness. What you eat on a daily basis can have profound implications in long term health conditions. Following a plant-based diet such as the Mediterranean diet, is an excellent first step towards reducing the risk of breast cancer. This type of diet is loaded with nutrient-dense food, full of phytochemicals, that can directly interact with our genes and our health. Multiple studies have been performed showing reduced cancer risk following this type of diet. Examples of “superfoods” for breast cancer prevention include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli/cauliflower), flaxseeds, apples, pomegranates, walnuts, fish, berries, green tea, garlic, and turmeric.
One of the key medicinal substances in food that can help prevent breast cancer is Indole-3-carbinol (IC-3). This is a naturally-occurring phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables. IC-3 helps to shift estrogen metabolism toward a more protective form of estrogen metabolite, 2-OH, instead of the 16- OH form . It can also be taken as a supplement sold either as IC-3 or a metabolite of IC-3 known as DIM (diindolylmethane). Additional studies and clinical trials are ongoing to determine the utility of supplementation. The best action step is to incorporate plenty of cruciferous vegetables into your weekly diet. A healthy goal is to aim for 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily. You can discuss supplements further with your provider.

Limit Excess body fat:

Being overweight or obese after menopause increases your breast cancer risk. After menopause, most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Therefore, extra fat tissue can raise estrogen levels. In addition, being overweight can raise insulin levels which have also been linked to certain cancers including breast cancer.


Alcohol is clearly linked to increased risk of developing breast cancer. Risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Those who have 2-5 drinks daily have 1.5x the risk of non-drinkers. The American Cancer Society recommends women have no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day (12oz beer, 5oz wine, 1.5oz distilled spirits). In 2010, the World Health Organization classified alcohol as a definitive human breast carcinogen. It is the toxic breakdown product of alcohol, acetaldehyde, that is associated with the carcinogenic risk.

Get Regular Exercise:

Physical activity can reduce the risk of breast cancer. The Women’s Health Initiative study showed that as little as 75-150min of exercise a week of brisk walking reduced risk by 18%. Current recommendations are to get at least 150 min of moderate exercise or 75 min of intense exercise per week.

Add Flaxseed to your diet:

Studies on flaxseed and breast cancer have demonstrated positive results from incorporating these into the daily diet. Flaxseed has been shown to reduce precancerous breast changes, reduce tumor cell proliferation, increase cancer cell death rate and reduce markers for tumor cell proliferation. The recommendation is 2 tsp of flaxseeds daily. Grinding the flaxseeds will allow adequate absorption of the nutrients. It is easy to throw them in a smoothie, sprinkle on cereal or a salad, or incorporate into a healthy snack bar.

Intake adequate Vitamin D3:

A number of studies have demonstrated a link with vitamin D deficiency and many cancers, including breast cancer. Vit D can play a role in the regulation of breast cell growth. It also can be helpful in immune, muscle and nervous system functions. The recommended dosage is 2000iu daily.

Reduce your Total Toxic Load:

Environmental pollutants and toxins can contribute to a women’s overall breast cancer risk. Increase your knowledge of potential toxins and make small action steps towards reducing or eliminating these from your day to day life. Your total toxic load refers to an individuals cumulative daily exposure from all products and sources. The Environmental Working Group has a number of resources (www.EWG.com) such as the Dirty Dozen (buy organic) and Clean 15 (lowest pesticides). They also have resources for helping you select the safest cleaning and personal care products. Know your packaging and avoid those containers with BPA, flame retardants, parabens, triclosan, and phthalates. Choose cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics wisely (“fragrance-free” best). Avoid cookware and clothing labeled “stain-resistant” or “non-stick”. These are just a few examples of action steps.

Limit use of Hormone Replacement Therapy:

Estrogen and progesterone are most frequently used during menopause to relieve symptoms. However, the use of HRT can increase the risk of breast cancer and the chance of dying from breast cancer. Hormone usage should be limited to the lowest dose that provides relief and for the shortest duration of time, ideally less than 5y. Bioidentical hormone therapy should

be regarded with the same health risks of the synthetic version. Although they are more structurally similar to those found in our bodies, there are not enough studies to support that they are more effective or safer. On another note, estrogen therapy alone after menopause does not seem to increase breast cancer risk as much (unless used for >10y). It is important to continually evaluate your duration and indication for taking hormones with your physician.

Melatonin & Sleep:

Melatonin can play a role in cancer cell growth suppression. Studies have shown that women with higher levels of melatonin had a lower breast cancer incidence. Currently, there is no uniform supplementation recommendation for melatonin. Much research is underway to evaluate the role of melatonin in many disease processes. Regardless, focusing on adequate quality sleep is important. Aim to get 7-8h of sleep a night. Focus on healthy sleep habits. If you are having trouble with sleep, consider taking melatonin for a period of time. Dosage is 2-3mg at bedtime. Stay tuned for future recommendations.


Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman nurses 1.5-2 years. This is felt to be related to reducing the total number of lifetime menstrual cycles. Count this as another benefit for mom and baby with breastfeeding!


Think Pink Live Green – Breastcancer.org
–31 steps to reduce risk of breast cancer (free brochure and web resource)
Breastcancer.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the most reliable, complete, and up-to-date information about breast cancer. Their mission is to help women and their loved ones make sense of the complex medical and personal information about breast health and breast cancer, so they can make the best decisions for their lives. Download their free brochure for key steps to take.

American Cancer Society

Valuable resource for information on risks factors, research, treatment, awareness

Environmental Working Group

resources and guide to a multitude of potentially harmful environmental exposure

Stephen Fogg

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