Women who have a family history of breast cancer live with the anxiety and fear of developing a breast malignancy themselves – and many feel powerless to stop it. Fortunately, the situation is not so bleak. According to a new study published in Breast Cancer Research, women with a breast cancer family history can lower their risk of cancer of the breast by practicing a few healthy lifestyle habits.
Even Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer Can Benefit from a Healthy Lifestyle
When researchers looked at data on over 80,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 as part of the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, they found that women with a family history of breast cancer diagnosed after age 45 could reduce their risk of the disease by making a few simple changes.
These changes include maintaining a healthy weight, drinking no more than one alcoholic drink per day, and exercising vigorously for at least twenty minutes most days of the week. In this study, women who did these three things lowered their risk of breast cancer by 25% even if they had a family history of breast cancer. This is similar to the risk reduction seen in women without a breast cancer family history.
Even Women with a Breast Cancer Family History Can Reduce Their Risk
The good news is women who are at high risk of breast cancer because of family history have more control over their risk than they think. Healthy lifestyle changes can make a difference. Other factors that may reduce the risk of breast cancer in women with a family history that weren’t addressed in this study are not using hormonal therapy and eating more cruciferous vegetables.
Some Women May Have a Very High Risk for Breast Cancer
This study excluded women who had relatives who developed breast cancer before the age of 45. This type of breast cancer family history is more likely to be associated with a mutation in a dominant gene such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. For this reason, women who have two or more relatives who developed breast cancer prior to menopause or have a family member with ovarian cancer should talk to their doctor about genetic testing. In women who are positive for either BRCA gene are at such high risk that treatment with tamoxifen or even prophylactic mastectomy may be recommended.
The Bottom Line?
Even women with a breast cancer family history can benefit from lifestyle interventions to reduce their risk of breast cancer. So lace up your sneakers and get moving for at least twenty minutes a day – then refuel with a big plate of cruciferous vegetables.
Eurekalert.org. “Breast-healthy lifestyle worthwhile, URMC study confirms”