Reading: This One Thing Could Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer

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This One Thing Could Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer

New research shows its effectiveness

By Catherine LeFebvre

Photo by Jernej Graj

Obesity will soon overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer, according to a new study out today from the Women’s Health Initiative.

“Excess fat can lead to excess estrogen,”  said Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering and a consulting physician with SurvivorNet, “and it can cause a chronic state of inflammation in women.”

While obesity has long been a known risk factor, the study helps to establish how much of a difference losing weight can have. It followed over 61,000 women with no prior history of breast cancer, recording their weight every three years for an average of 11 years. In that time, a little over 3,000 breast cancers were found. Those who had lost 5% or more of their original weight had a lower breast cancer rate than those who had remained stable. And in those who had gained 5% or more of their original weight, the rate of breast cancer was higher.

The good news? This means that postmenopausal women who lose weight, even small amounts, may reduce their risk of breast cancer. So for example, for a woman who is 185 pounds, dropping 5% is just nine pounds.

“Small changes are so important,” Dr. Comen said. “The idea of changing your whole lifestyle seems impossibly hard. We all have lives, we have kids, we eat fast food. If doctors just go around saying everyone needs to lose weight, it’s almost an insensitive message.”

Instead, Dr. Comen recommends focusing on sustainable changes, like eating more fruits and vegetables, giving up soda, and committing to doing something that makes you sweat every day.

Key in all of this is finding a support group. When you buddy up with friends, losing weight is a lot easier, and the more we take these issues on as a community, Dr. Comen says, the more effective we all become.

“The things that we can do to make meaningful change in our life are not always easy. But the reality is that you can make those changes, even when you are postmenopausal,” Dr. Comen said.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Comen recommends sticking to a few trusted online resources, like SurvivorNet, BreastCancer.org, the American Cancer Society, and Cancer.net. Try to resist the urge of going down a Google hole and coming up with your own diagnosis. The goal is to be able to ask informed questions of your doctor so you can decide on the best treatment plan.

“Cancer is a common denominator,” Dr. Comen said. “No matter how rich or poor you are, it is always terrifying. And knowledge is empowering.”

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