Doing These Four Things May Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

According to local research, lifestyle choices can make a big difference.


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Here’s the hard truth: Breast cancer, like all cancers, is an incredibly complicated and unpredictable disease, and there’s a lot we don’t know about it.

Research suggests, however, that lifestyle choices are part of the complicated equation that dictates your likelihood of developing cancer. So in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we looked to recent studies from several Boston institutions to find the latest recommendations for reducing your risk.

1. Exercise.

A May study from Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and other institutions shows that frequent physical activity may lower your risk of getting 13 different cancers. While exercise seems to have the largest impact on esophageal cancer, working out may also reduce your odds of getting breast cancer, the study says.

Earlier this year, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DCFI) and Fitbit also partnered on a study that’s testing whether physical activity and weight loss can curb breast cancer recurrence, in response to prior research that suggests obesity may heighten breast cancer risk. The study received a $600,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation last month.

In short: Re-up that gym membership, stat.

2. Ditch the cigarettes and alcohol.

If every American stopped smoking; had only one (for women) or two (for men) alcoholic drinks per day; kept weight in check; and exercised regularly, national cancer deaths and diagnoses could drop by half, according to a May study from Harvard and Mass General.

The study demonstrates an especially strong connection between those four behaviors and the development of lung, colon, pancreatic, and kidney cancers. For breast cancer, specifically, they seem to cut odds of diagnosis by about 4 percent, and death by about 12 percent.

3. Eat a high fiber diet, and have your daughter do the same.

Load up on fruits and vegetables. A Harvard Chan study from February finds that a high-fiber diet, especially one heavy on produce, may help prevent breast cancer.

That’s a healthy choice regardless of your age, but the study shows especially compelling evidence for upping fiber consumption during adolescence and early adulthood. For young women, the data shows, filling up on fiber could lower breast cancer risk by as much as 19 percent. So, yes, your daughter really should finish her veggies.

4. Take aspirin—maybe.

For years, researchers have theorized that aspirin may lower inflammation, and, in turn, inhibit the growth of tumors. And this fall, DCFI and Brigham and Women’s Hospital are embarking on a trial dedicated to studying the medicine cabinet staple’s effect on breast cancer.

Don’t get too excited yet, though. A March study from Mass General shows that the drug may, indeed, reduce cancer risk, especially for colorectal and gastrointestinal disease—but, interestingly, it did not find a strong link between aspirin consumption and breast, prostate, or lung cancer.