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Lifestyle Changes Women Should Consider to Prevent Cancer

Making simple changes can lower your risk for reproductive and breast cancers

Contributed by Danielle Karsies, R.D., M.S., Symptom Management Program

woman at a Farmer's Market

While it is not clear how nutrition and physical activity may relate to ovarian cancer risk, there is strong evidence that a few basic lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of breast and endometrial cancers. The strongest risk factor for both is being overweight or obese. Researchers think that as fat mass increases, estrogen levels do too, so lifestyle changes that focus on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight are key to decreasing a person’s risk of endometrial and breast cancers. Even a 5% weight loss can decrease one’s risk of developing obesity-related diseases.

Breast cancer

Lifestyle changes associated with weight loss or the prevention of weight gain in people with breast cancer include physical activity and diet. Studies in this population show that moderate to vigorous physical activity, as well as a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products is linked with a lower risk of breast cancer. Some research shows a decreased risk with lower fat intake but this is likely more due to the weight loss that accompanies this type of diet.

Alcohol intake is also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Even low levels of alcohol intake can increase risk.

What can you do to reduce your risk of breast cancer?

  • Get regular physical activity. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
  • Reduce lifetime weight gain by limiting your calories and getting regular physical activity.
  • Avoid or limit your alcohol intake. Consume no more than one 12 ounce beer, 5 ounces wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor per day.
  • Increase your intake of vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy.

Endometrial (uterine) cancer

Even though the diet evidence is mixed, there is potential benefit in following a diet high in vegetables and fiber, while avoiding excessive intakes of red meat, saturated fat and alcohol.

Although a good number of the studies looking at the association between the risk of endometrial cancer and physical activity have been limited to women who are overweight or have not yet reached menopause, the evidence does point to lower risk of endometrial cancer with higher physical activity. Risk also increases for women who spend most of their day sitting, regardless of whether some exercise is fit in at the end of the day.

What can you do to reduce your risk of endometrial cancer?

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise most days of the week.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Make an effort to leave your desk every hour or two for even a 5 minutes trip down the hall.
  • Follow a healthy, balanced diet focused on lots of fruits and vegetables complemented with whole grains and lean proteins.
Continue learning about how to prevent cancer:

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