Breast Cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in American women. According to the National Cancer Institute, "Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States. More than 180,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year," The exact cause of breast cancer, as well as many other types of cancers, is not yet known. However, studies do show that the risk of breast cancer increases greatly in older women and seems more uncommon in women under the age of thirty-five. In fact, most cases of breast cancer occur in women over fifty, and the risk is even higher in women over sixty. Also, breast cancer occurs more often in white women than African-American or Asian women.

Diet and Breast Cancer
Lifestyle factors play a potential role in the etiology of breast cancer. More specifically, it's the amount and type of fat consumed; the carotenoid, phytochemical, and flavonoid content of the diet; and lifestyle conditions, such as consuming too many calories and physical inactivity, that may affect the risk of contracting breast cancer. A plant-based diet adequate in vegetables, fruits, and phytochemicals is to some degree protective against breast cancer. Carotenoids and flavonoids, which are substances found in vegetables and fruits, may have a protective effect against cancers such as breast cancer. Soy foods have also received recent attention due to their probable cancer-fighting properties. The isoflavone genistein, a phytoestrogen found in soy foods, is believed to possess some anticancer properties. In addition to providing protective substances, plant-based diets provide more fiber, which may offer protection against breast cancer. As with any type of cancer, a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle are important steps in taking preventive measures.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Several factors can increase your risk for getting breast cancer:

  • A history of breast cancer increases your risk of getting it in the other breast.
  • Having a family history of breast cancer.
  • Evidence suggests that the longer a woman is exposed to estrogen (estrogen made by the body, taken as a drug, or delivered by a patch), the higher risk they run for breast cancer. The risk is somewhat increased among women who began menstruating at an earlier age (before age twelve), experienced menopause late (after age fifty-five), never had children, or took HRT for long periods of time. Each of these factors increases the amount of time a woman's body is exposed to estrogen.
  • Women who have their first child late (after about age thirty) have a greater chance of developing breast cancer than women who have a child at a younger age.
  • Having breast radiation therapy before age thirty.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Poor dietary intake.
  • Studies suggest a slightly higher risk among women who drink alcohol.
Regular screenings for breast cancer have been shown to help decrease the number of deaths from breast cancer. Women should take an active part in early detection by scheduling regular mammograms and clinical breast exams, as well as by performing breast self-exams.

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

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