Healthy Lifestyle Changes Impact Cancer Risks

Breast cancer risks can be reduced by changing habits

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Women can reduce their risks of developing breast cancer with lifestyle changes. Scientists now know just how much those changes impact overall risks in both individuals and populations at large.

Researchers have produced a new model to quantify the impact lifestyle changes can have on reducing the overall breast cancer risks in women and the population at large. The model estimates how many annual cases could potentially be prevented in the entire population.

"Lose weight, move more and drink less to reduce breast cancer risks."

Models that predict a woman's chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer are based on factors that can't be changed - age, family history. These models also include data about so-called "modifiable risk factors" or lifestyle changes that can be made.

Up until now, though, there's been little information on how much changing habits and lifestyle can reduce the overall breast cancer risks in individuals and the general population.

To develop this model, Elisabetta Petracci, Ph.D., and Mitchell Gail, M.D., Ph.D., at the National Cancer Institute and colleagues reviewed data from an Italian study involving more than 5,000 women.

The model included the five risk facts that are difficult or impossible alter:

  • Reproductive history (age of first menstrual cycle, age and numbers of childbirths, etc.)
  • Education
  • Occupation activity
  • Family history of cancer
  • Biopsy history

The model also included modifiable risk factors:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Physical activity
  • Body mass index (BMI), which is a number based on weight and height

Researchers theroized that lifestyle changes would reduce the absolute breast cancer risks by amounts that can be quantified. And they were right.

Looking at 20 years of data, researchers found that lifestyle changes reduced breast cancer risks as follows:

  • 1.6 percent among women 65 years and older in the entire population
  • 3.2 percent among with breast cancer family history
  • 4.1 percent in women with risk factors that can't be changed

Looking at the findings from a population standpoint, a 1.6 percent reduction in a population of one million would translate into 16,000 fewer cases. A 3.2 percent reduction among high risk populations would amount to only 2,560 cases, according to the model.

Authors say these results could help design programs encouraging women to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risks of developing breast cancer.

Study findings are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 24, 2011
Last Updated:
June 26, 2011