While maintaining an ideal weight, exercising and eating a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables are associated with being “healthy,” these and other lifestyle choices can also reduce a person’s chance of getting breast cancer. And with more published research to back up the reasons why, doctors who specialize in treating breast conditions, including cancer, have more evidence-based facts to share with their patients.
“One of the top risk factors for breast cancer is age – getting older – and that’s something we cannot change,” said Jane Mendez, M.D., chief of breast surgery at Miami Cancer Institute . “But there are a multitude of risk factors that we can indeed act on.”
Alcohol Consumption and Breast Cancer
One of the more recent scientific studies about lifestyle choices that contribute to breast cancer, published last year, found even light alcohol consumption – the equivalent of one glass a day for women and two glasses a day for men – can increase a person’s risk for breast cancer.
This study, published in the June 2016 edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research , found an estimated 144,000 breast cancer cases and 38,000 breast cancer deaths globally in 2012 were attributable to alcohol, with 19 percent of these cases and 17.5 percent of these deaths occurring in women considered light alcohol consumers by current guidelines . Other research  estimates that 6 percent of all deaths worldwide caused by cancer are attributable to alcohol consumption.
Body Mass Index (BMI) and Breast Cancer
Several studies also validate the role a person’s weight plays in the growth of cancer cells.
“There’s a correlation between the amount of fatty tissue in the body, estrogen level and breast cancer,” Dr. Mendez said. “A lot of breast cancers are estrogen sensitive which means the higher BMI, the higher the estrogen level, and the higher likelihood, perhaps, of developing a breast cancer in the future. Paying close attention to your weight and being at a moderate level is good not only for [preventing] breast cancer, but also for high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.”
In 2007, obesity contributed to about 4 percent of new cancer cases in men and 7 percent of new cancer cases in women, according to one study  using National Cancer Institute (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data. Using this data to project future incidences, researchers found that if every average-weight American adult lost 2.2 lbs., 100,000 new cancer cases would be prevented by 2030.
Controllable Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Dr. Mendez and her colleagues at Miami Cancer Institute advise their patients to focus on other important lifestyle factors that also have been proven to contribute to an increased breast cancer risk.
“One of the most important things we can do when it comes to breast cancer is to know your own body and individual risk factors so you can be proactive,” Dr. Mendez said.
Then, pay attention to those things that are in our control, she says. Other risk factors include:
Exercise regularly – A study released in 2015  found that regular moderate exercise helped reduce the risk of developing 13 types of cancer , including breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends  that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (or a combination of these) each week to reduce a person’s cancer risk. Dr. Mendez says excess fat cells can produce chronic inflammation in our bodies, another known contributor to cancer’s development. Exercise helps reduce those fat cells.
Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym, Dr. Mendez says. It’s about trying to get the heart rate up that’s important. Dr. Mendez encourages patients to exercise as much as possible doing things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking a couple of blocks instead of driving, depending on a person’s level of capacity.
Stop smoking. Most people believe smoking causes lung cancer, yet many may not realize that tobacco has been linked to nearly 20 other cancers, in addition to breast cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Toxins in cigarette smoke and tobacco have been shown to alter the makeup of cells and reduce the body’s ability to prevent the growth of the disease.