The women in my family have a history of breast cancer. I’m very worried that I’m next in line. Are there any preventative measures I can take to reduce my chances of developing this condition?
Tara Whyand, oncology dietitian and ProfBiotics Nutrition Advisor, comments:
First of all speak with your relatives to find out how old they were at diagnosis and if they have been tested for breast cancer genes which could raise your risk. Then discuss this with your GP. There is no specific diet and lifestyle guidance for women who carry breast cancer genes but the following may have some influence in reducing breast cancer in the female population:
Most importantly keep a healthy weight for your height. Your body mass index (BMI) should be 18.5-24.9kg/m2. Do this by not having too high an energy intake, and by regularly exercising to burn off any excess. Fatness is related to some kinds of breast cancer so it is important to be slim for as much of your life as possible. Fad diets and diet plans may help initially but do not lead to long term behaviour and habitual changes.
Try not to drink alcohol at all because even one drink a day has been related to breast cancer risk. If you do drink see it as an occasional treat and some more lenient guidelines state that we should not exceed approximately 14 units a week. Alcohol itself is high in calories and contributes to body fatness.
Too much fat also contributes to weight gain but it is important to have small amounts every day. Avoid a diet high in saturated fats however as oils, butter, cream, fatty meats, coconut, chocolate, biscuits and cakes may be a linked to breast cancer. Instead eat more foods containing fish oils (marine omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids). Salmon, fresh tuna, herring, pilchards and sardines all make good choices as these fish and oil supplements are linked to lower risks of breast cancer.
We often eat large portion sizes of carbohydrates but some scientists suggest that women over 50 years old should limit high carbohydrate foods. These include sugars and starches. At least half of your plate should consist of salad or vegetables in main meals, limiting pasta, potatoes, rice, bread and noodles. This will also help prevent weight gain.
Fruit, veg and beans
A diet high in fruit and vegetables can lower the risk of breast cancer. Eat more fruit for their high antioxidant vitamin and fibre content. Tomatoes, watermelon, papaya and pink guava contain a carotenoid called lycopene which has been linked to reduced risk of breast cancer. If you are post –menopausal and haven’t had breast cancer, eat more plant oestrogens called phytoestrogens.They are found in soya bean products and the fibre of whole grains, fruit, vegetables. Flaxseeds are also very high. Eating more foods containing compounds called flavonoids are also recommended. They are found in onions, broccoli, tea, fruits and turmeric. Turmeric contains curcumin which in high amounts interferes with the breast cancer pathway.
Zinc deficiency may be a risk factor for breast cancer. Eat small amounts of lean red meat or leg meat from poultry as they are high in zinc. Meat must not be overcooked or well done however and consume no more than 500g of cooked red meat per week. Nuts also contain zinc and international organisations agree that we should all try to eat 30g of mixed nuts per day.
Vitamin D deficiency is possibly a risk factor for breast and other cancers, and the UK government are considering recommending that we all take vitamin D supplements. Prevent vitamin D deficiency by eating fortified foods, oily fish, eggs and supplements. A small amount of sunshine will help but cannot be relied on in the UK.
Do not smoke tobacco and avoid breathing in second-hand smoke. If you have been exposed to smoke in the past you may have depleted vitamin levels and it is important to restore levels back to normal with a better dietary intake. Of course these steps may reduce your risk of breast cancer and other cancers, along with improving your health in general!
Breast formula (£35 / profbiotics.com) contains zinc, curcumin, vitamin D and lycopene to support the wellbeing of women’s breasts, and can be taken as part of a healthy balanced diet.