Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Can Lifestyle Changes Help Prevent Breast Cancer?

Published: 14 October, 2020 17:12 IST | Maitrai Agarwal | Mumbai

Dr. Sarjana Dutt, Director-Molecular Biology and Cytogenetics at Oncquest Laboratories, lists lifestyle changes that might lower the risk of contracting breast cancer

Photo used for representational purposes only.
Photo used for representational purposes only.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, affecting 2.1 million women each year. It is also responsible for the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In order to positively impact breast cancer survival rates, early detection is critical which can only happen when people are aware of risk factors and symptoms. October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month with an aim to increase attention and support for awareness, early detection, and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease.

As per WHO, 1 in 22 urban Indian women is likely to develop breast cancer. Factors such as family history, reproductive history, and age put one at risk, but so does not being physically active and being overweight. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke with Dr. Sarjana Dutt, Director-Molecular Biology and Cytogenetics at Oncquest Laboratories, to list down lifestyle changes that might lower the risk of contracting breast cancer.

Exercising Regularly

This is a no-brainer; the best way to stay healthy is to exercise regularly. As per WHO, adults should indulge in up to 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of high-intensity workout every week. “Even though it is not obvious as to how much physical activity reduces the chances of breast cancer, but there is a growing pile of evidence that suggests that regular exercise may reduce the risk of contracting breast cancer by 10-20 percent,” said Dr. Sarjana.

Managing Weight and Diet

There exists a complex relationship between an individual’s weight and the risk of contracting breast cancer. “Before a woman reaches menopause, most of her estrogen demand is fulfilled by the ovaries, but after menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen, and therefore, to compensate, estrogen is produced from fat tissue. Thus, being overweight after menopause can increase the chances of contracting breast cancer. Obesity can increase the risk of contracting a variety of other cancers as well, including that of colon, endometrium, esophagus, pancreas, and kidney. Also, if a person has previously suffered from cancer and then becomes obese, chances of recurrence increase,” explained Dr. Sarjana.

Eating healthy goes a long way in maintaining proper weight as well. One must try to include a variety of foods in our diet, including fruits, green leafy vegetables, and foods rich in calcium, antioxidants, and vitamin D. It has also been found that eating excessive quantities of red meat or consuming red meat regularly might also trigger the onset of cancer.

Avoid Consuming Alcohol and Tobacco

Alcohol and tobacco consumption are directly related to breast cancer. It has been found that consuming 1 drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer by 7 percent to 10 percent and consuming 2 to 3 drinks a day increases the risk to 20 percent. The risk further increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Smoking regularly may also lead to breast cancer. One must try to avoid both alcohol and smoking altogether and if that is not possible, these things should be consumed in very small quantities on certain occasions only.

Having Children at the Right Time

Women who get pregnant below the age of 30 and deliver on the due date are at a reduced risk of contracting breast cancer. Women who are past the age of 30 and do not have children or have their first child after the age of 30 are at an increased risk of breast cancer. Many independent researchers have corroborated that early pregnancy or having many pregnancies can reduce the risk of breast cancer.


In a study conducted by the Collaborative Group on Human Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, it was found that for every year that a woman breastfed, her likelihood of contracting breast cancer dropped by 4.3%. In another research conducted by Australian researchers, it was found that women who breastfed for 13 months or more were 63 percent less likely to contract ovarian cancer than women who breastfed for less than 7 months.

Family Planning and Birth Control

Women should be wary before choosing their method of contraception because some birth control pills contain hormones, which might increase the risk of breast cancer. “Using OCP (Oral Contraceptive Pill) after the age of 30 and for less than 5 years might not increase the risk of breast cancer, but continuous use below that age might increase the risk of breast cancer,” explained Dr. Sarjana.

Exposure to Carcinogens

Certain carcinogenic chemicals might increase the risk of breast cancer among women – especially among women who work in the packaging and construction industry. These chemicals may end up disrupting the functioning of the endocrine gland and may lead to the development of breast cancer. Although not all these situations can be avoided, certain situations can be handled better. For instance, wearing N95 masks inside the factory premises and choosing cosmetic products carefully may help reduce the risk of breast cancer.

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