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Breast Cancer - Prevention and Management with Lifestyle Changes

Written by Mita Majumdar, M.Sc. | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Sunil Shroff, MBBS, MS, FRCS (UK), D. Urol (Lond) on Dec 20, 2018
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What is Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a disease in which certain cells in the breast start multiplying abnormally. Two types of breast cancer that are common are:

  • Ductal cancer in which the cells lining the ducts that carry milk to the nipple multiply uncontrollably
Breast Cancer
  • Lobular cancer in which the glands that produce milk form a malignant tumor.

If the malignant tumor spreads into nearby tissues it is called invasion. Sometimes, the cells spread to other parts of the body, such as lungs, liver, bones, or brain, through the blood stream and the lymphatic system. This process is known as metastasis.

The WHO fact sheet reveals that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. About 1.7 million cases worldwide have been diagnosed in 2007 out of which approximately 465,000 women lost their lives to breast cancer. However, new evidence suggests that breast cancer survival rates are much higher than before due to rising awareness about the disease, early detection, and better treatment.

Although we do not exactly know what causes breast cancer, there are many factors that contribute to the risk of developing this dreaded disease. Medical scientists believe that hormone may have a role in the development of breast cancer but how it happens is not yet clear. Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you have a risk factor, you are certain to get breast cancer. There are cases where women may have no risk factors but they do get breast cancer, while some women may not develop the disease despite having one or more risk factors.


There are certain risk factors that you cannot change and your lifestyle has no role in developing them. A family history of breast cancer and inherited genetic mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are two such risk factors. A recent research confirmed that the increased risk of breast cancer associated with genes is not affected by lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, HRT, obesity and the like.

Gender and age are other non-modifiable factors likely to cause breast cancers. For example, women are at a much higher risk for breast cancer as compared to men. Men, too, may get the disease but it is too rare. Similarly, the chance of getting breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. Statistics show that about two out of three women with invasive breast cancer are 55 or older.

Race and geographical location can also be high risk, non-lifestyle factors for breast cancer. Most Western countries are reported to have higher incidence of breast cancer as against African or Asian countries. It has been observed that African-American women seem to have faster growing tumors.


Dense breast tissue, periods beginning before the age 12, menopause after the age of 55, radiation treatment for other type of cancer, and treatment with DES (diethylstilbestrol) for lowering chances of miscarriage are other risk factors that cannot be modified or controlled.

This said, there are a number of risk factors for breast cancer that can be caused by lifestyle choices. Some of these – use of birth control pills, high fat diet, abortion, breast implants, pollution, and tobacco smoke – are ‘uncertain’ risk factors because research studies did not find any conclusive breast cancer causing evidence against them. But there are certain lifestyle choices that may cause breast cancer in women. These lifestyle choices and their preventive measures are discussed here.

  1. Travis et al. Gene-environment interactions in 7610 women with breast cancer: prospective evidence from the Million Women Study. The Lancet, Volume 375, Issue 9732, Pages 2143-2151.
  2. Beral V, et al. Breast cancer and hormone-replacement therapy in the Million Women Study. Lancet. 2003 Aug 9;362(9382):419-27.
  3. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50302 women with breast cancer and 96973 women without the disease. Lancet. 2002 Jul 20;360(9328):187-95.
  4. Hamajima N, et al. Alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer--collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58,515 women with breast cancer and 95,067 women without the disease. Br J Cancer. 2002 Nov 18;87(11):1234-45.
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  6. Kruk J. Lifetime physical activity and the risk of breast cancer: a case-control study. Cancer Detect Prev. 2007;31(1):18-28. Epub 2007 Feb 12.
  7. Harvie M, et al.Association of gain and loss of weight before and after menopause with risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in the Iowa women''s health study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005 Mar;14(3):656-61.
  8. Mueller PS, Plevak DJ, Rummans TA. Religious involvement, spirituality, and medicine: implications for clinical practice. Mayo Clin Proc. 2001 Dec;76(12):1225-35.
  9. Choumanova, I., Wanat, S., Barrett, R. and Koopman, C. (2006), Religion and Spirituality in Coping with Breast Cancer: Perspectives of Chilean Women. The Breast Journal, 12: 349–352.
  10. Winzelberg, A. J., Classen, C., Alpers, G. W., Roberts, H., Koopman, C., Adams, R. E., Ernst, H., Dev, P. and Taylor, C. B. (2003), Evaluation of an internet support group for women with primary breast cancer. Cancer, 97: 1164–1173.
  11. Spiegel, D., Bloom, J.R., and Yalom, I. (1981). Group support for patients with metastatic cancer. A randomized outcome study. Arch Gen Psychiatry 38(5): 527-33.
  12. Helgeson VS, Cohen S, Schulz R, Yasko J. Group support interventions for women with breast cancer: who benefits from what? Health Psychol. 2000 Mar;19(2):107-14.]
  13. Chlebowski RT, et al. Dietary fat reduction and breast cancer outcome: interim efficacy results from the Women''s Intervention Nutrition Study. J Natl Cancer Inst 2006, 98:1767-1776.
  14. Antoni MH, Lehman JM, Kilbourn KM, Boyers AE, Culver JL, Alferi SM, Yount SE, McGregor BA, Arena PL, Harris SD, Price AA, Carver CS. Cognitive-behavioral stress management intervention decreases the prevalence of depression and enhances benefit finding among women under treatment for early-stage breast cancer. Health Psychol. 2001 Jan;20(1):20-32.
  15. Cruess DG, Antoni MH, McGregor BA, Kilbourn KM, Boyers AE, Alferi SM, Carver CS, Kumar M. Cognitive-behavioral stress management reduces serum cortisol by enhancing benefit finding among women being treated for early stage breast cancer. Psychosom Med. 2000 May-Jun;62(3):304-8.
  16. Granath J, Ingvarsson S, von Thiele U, Lundberg U. Stress management: a randomized study of cognitive behavioural therapy and yoga. Cogn Behav Ther. 2006;35(1):3-10.
  17. Nidich SI, Fields JZ, Rainforth MV, Pomerantz R, Cella D, Kristeller J, Salerno JW, Schneider RH. A randomized controlled trial of the effects of transcendental meditation on quality of life in older breast cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. 2009 Sep;8(3):228-34.
  18. Mustian KM, Palesh OG, Flecksteiner SA. Tai Chi Chuan for breast cancer survivors. Med Sport Sci. 2008;52:209-17.
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  20. What Causes Cancer? - (http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/OverviewGuide/breast-cancer-overview-what-causes)
  21. Evaluation of the current knowledge limitations in breast cancer research: a gap analysis - (http://breast-cancer-research.com/content/10/2/R26#B108)
  22. Limit alcohol consumption - (http://www.wcrf-uk.org/preventing_cancer/recommendations/alcohol_and_cancer.php)
  23. Science Translational Medicine: Iron Regulation Linked to Breast Cancer Survival Rate - (http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/0805sp_cancer.shtml)
  24. Nutrition for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors - (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/avon_foundation_breast_center/treatments_services/nutrition.html)

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Breast cancer can be earlier detected with mammograms. That's why it is really important to have yourself checked when you are already in your 40s or if you have a high risk for cancer [family history].


is cancer a hereditary disease ?? yes mainly mid 40 age women are prone to get breast cancer.. document management

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