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Breast Cancer Prevention Strategies

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., Former Nutritional Sciences Specialist, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri


There are no guarantees that diet will prevent breast cancer. But, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research--the third largest cancer charity which focuses exclusively on the link between diet and cancer--there is a great deal that women can do on a daily basis to reduce their risk of breast cancer. In fact, the AICR estimates that adjustments in diet and other lifestyle habits could reduce the incidence of breast cancer by one-third to one-half. That’s good news!

Here are some preventive strategies you can put into action today:

Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day; plus increase the amount of whole grains, beans or legumes in your diet. Plant-based foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and protective compounds that have consistently been linked to lower cancer risk. Eating more plant foods also helps cut down on total caloric intake.

Avoid overeating. Weight gain--especially during adulthood--is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer risk probably because increased body fat stores are linked to higher circulating estrogen levels. The role of estrogen in breast cancer risk is not fully understood, but the development of cancer has been linked to higher blood levels of estradiol--a form of estrogen. Eating less high-fat foods is one of the easiest ways to trim excess calories from our diets. Replacing high-fat foods with fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains helps us feel satisfied with less total calories. Plus, women who follow low-fat, near vegetarian diets have lower levels of estradiol.

Avoid alcohol. Alcohol intake is linked to higher blood estrogen levels. The Nurses’ Health Study, which followed close to 90,000 nurses for almost a decade, found that women who had two or more drinks per day of wine, beer, or hard liquor were 40% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not drink any alcohol. Even moderate alcohol consumption--one drink or less per day--can increase risk.

Enjoy physical activity every day. Exercise burns fat and helps control weight. Women who get regular physical activity are less likely to develop breast cancer than sedentary women. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. A little more is even better. The AICR recommends one hour of moderate activity each day, plus one hour of vigorous exercise once per week to reduce risk. Think of exercise as “play”-- choose those activities you enjoy and chances are you’ll stick with them.

The above recommendations aren’t just for grown women. Researchers are now finding that the exercise habits and food choices we make when we’re young may have the greatest impact on preventing disease later on. Take soy products, for example. Soy foods may be the most protective when consumed during childhood and adolescence. Eating soy in moderation during adulthood may be beneficial, but avoid using soy extracts, such as genistein, in supplement form.

In addition to regular exercise and smart eating habits, perform monthly breast self-exams, get regular mammograms, and clinical breast exams by your physician. Talk to your doctor about your medical history, personal risk and warning symptoms. We can’t change our age or genetic make-up, but we can take control of our lifestyle habits.

Want more information? Check the following sources:






Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009




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