Contrary to popular belief – most breast cancer is an “acquired” cancer – the genetic mutation that occurred to cause the cancer happened some time (or a number of mutations) during our life time – they are not hereditary cancers.
Only 5-10% of cancers are thought to be hereditary or “germline” inherited genes. Examples of this are BRCA, PALB2, HBOC… all of which can be discovered through genetic counselling.
The great news: We have a great deal of power in preventing breast cancer.
- 246,660 women and 2,600 men are estimated to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2016
- 54,000 additional women are estimated to be diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ)
- Mortality… 40,890 women and men are estimated to die from breast cancer in 2016
… these stats courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.
Cancer researchers agree, there are 3 lifestyle choices that have the greatest influence in the prevention of breast cancer – and many other cancers:
- Maintaining lower body fat levels
- Keeping physically active = Exercise + regular, multiple times/day physical activity
- Minimizing alcohol – and NO! A glass of wine each day is NOT good for your health. This myth went to fairy dust years ago.
One drink equals: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Many studies show us the deleterious effects of alcohol on cancer (and heart disease) start from the very first glass. The effects of the alcohol rise exponentially when combined with smoking.
Let’s look at the bigger picture, albeit, simplified. All 3 of these contributing factors can severely increase a person’s (both men and women) estrogen exposure. Higher estrogen exposure is associated with a greater risk of the disease. And sources of estrogen exposure vary for women pre menopausal vs. post menopausal.
Estrogen is stored in body fat, along with other nuisance hormones. For this reason, excessive amounts of body fat upsets hormonal balance, raises estrogen levels in the body.
And why does exercise reduce the risk? Numerous studies from around the world agree regular physical activity dramatically reduces the serum levels of estrogens. Women who also restrict dietary intake could further reduce their serum levels of estrogens.
Alcohol: Always worthy of a warning while on the topic of cancer. We have numerous studies – the largest alcohol and cancer study released in July 2016- that prove to us, alcohol causes breast cancer, and many others. Alcohol contributes to breast cancer in a number of ways – which is why women need to know, they must minimize alcohol… Just to name a few…
- Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
- Alcohol (ethanol) is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde in our body, damaging the DNA, in a number of possible ways and preventing cells from repairing this damage
- Alcohol is a solvent. When someone consumes alcohol and smokes they exponentially increase their risk for cancer as the alcohol enables the mutagenic chemicals in the tobacco to be better absorbed into the body.
- Alcohol is a cause of oxidative stress, producing ROS – Reactive Oxygen Species which alter the DNA
- Alcohol encourages the body to store fat. It provides the body with almost as many calories as fat, yet there is no benefit to the body, only burden. As we referred to earlier, body fat cells can be thought of as active endocrine glands, secreting hormones upsetting hormonal balance. Hormonal balance is critical in disease prevention.
The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. In 1988, the IARC (International Agency for Cancer Research) declared alcohol a carcinogen
In our daily lives, we are exposed to many chemicals which are known endocrine disruptors. Many of these chemicals are used in our personal care products, make up, food additives, plastics… for another article!
The great news is… there is much we can do to prevent breast cancer. Understanding the disease from our DNA to guide our lifestyle choices, is true breast cancer awareness.
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