Post-menopausal women who follow at least five of AICR’s recommendations for cancer prevention may cut their risk of developing breast cancer in half compared to those who meet none, suggests a new study that adds to previous research showing how each recommendation met decreases a women’s risk.
The three recommendations that most helped women reduce their risk of breast cancer in this study related to eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; being a healthy weight; and drinking one or fewer glasses of wine a day.
The study was published early in the online edition of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. It was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
For the study, researchers pulled data from approximately 31,000 participants of the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) study. The women were ages 50 to 76 at the start and had no history of breast cancer. When the study began, the women filled out questionnaires on their eating habits, weight, activity, medicines they take and other factors that may play a role in breast cancer risk.
The researchers focused on six of AICR’s ten recommendations for cancer prevention.
- Stay as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
- Be physically active: For this study, women met this recommendation if they were active an average of 30 minutes per day at least five days a week
- Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks.
- Eat a plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans: For the study, women met this if they ate at least five servings of fruits and/or non-starchy vegetables and also at least one serving of whole grains and/or legumes per day.
- Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat: For the study, women met this if they ate less than 18 ounces of red or processed meat per week.
- If you consume alcohol, limit yourself to one drink per day.
Recommendations related to limiting salt, breastfeeding and not relying on supplements were either not available or applicable.
After almost seven years, 899 of the women had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Overall, following any five of the recommendations linked to a 60 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer when compared to the women who did not adhere to any of the recommendations. Meeting two to four of the recommendations was associated with almost half a reduced risk, 44 to 48 percent. Following each recommendation linked to an 11 percent reduction in risk.
When the researchers focused on each specific recommendation, they found the ones most linked to reduced risk were those related to body fatness, eating plant foods, and alcohol intake. Women who met all three of these recommendations had a slightly more than 60 percent reduced risk compared to women who met none of these three.
This study adds to the evidence that lifestyle choices can make a difference when it comes to reducing the risk of breast cancer. A much larger study released last year also found that women who followed AICR’s recommendations had a reduced risk of breast cancer, along with many other cancers. That study, which included the breastfeeding recommendation, found that women who followed five or more recommendations had a 16 percent reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who followed fewer than three. (That study also included women who were premenopausal.)
AICR’s report and its continuous updates concluded that women can reduce their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by being physically active, staying a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol, and breastfeeding one’s child. AICR estimates that 38 percent of breast cancer cases in the US could be prevented by following these recommendations.
You can read more about the prevention and survivorship research at Learn About Breast Cancer.