There are several risk factors that can contribute to an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. Some you have no control over – like being a woman, for one, and your family history for another. But other contributing factors are directly correlated to your lifestyle choices and habits. Scientific evidence and research studies demonstrate that there are modifiable risk factors linked to breast cancer. Three widely recognized and impactable lifestyle risk factors that increase a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer are alcohol use, weight gain, and lack of exercise. That may not seem like news, but the statistics showing the extent to which each of these factors increases risk can be eye-opening for some.
Alcohol use The consumption of alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, which increases with the level of alcohol use. According to one study, women who consume 2-3 drinks per day have approximately a 20% higher risk compared to women who didn’t drink alcohol. It’s recommended to limit your alcohol intake in order to lower your risk of developing breast cancer, as well as many other health risks.
Weight gain Studies have shown that women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a 30-60% higher breast cancer risk than those who are lean. Gaining weight after age 18 also increases the risk of breast cancer before and after menopause. One study has shown that women who gain more than 20 pounds after age 18 have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer than women who gained little to no weight.
Lack of exercise We all know that being overweight and not being physically active can result in a wide array of health problems such as heart disease and strokes, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and many more. One of the lesser-known risks is that it can also increase the likelihood of breast cancer. Evidence also shows that women who get regular exercise or are physically active lower their breast cancer risk by 10-20%, especially in women past menopause. The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity a week to lower overall cancer risk.
Call to Action for Employers!
If you were surprised by the impact these lifestyle factors have on breast cancer risk, chances are many of your colleagues would be too. Education and awareness is key to prevention, early detection, and appropriate care for breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the U.S., behind skin cancers. Take advantage of Breast Cancer Awareness month and gather a team of colleagues to participate in a local walk or race this month to promote both awareness and encourage physical activity. The best time to start reducing these health risks is now.