Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer among women, aside from skin cancer. It’s also the second leading cause of death among women, behind lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society’s predictions, 2015 will see over 230,000 new breast cancer diagnoses; about one in eight American women will be diagnosed at some point in their lives.
But the frequency or risk of breast cancer, like many other cancers, can be reduced by your choices. You know about cigarettes, but let’s talk about others than can reduce the risk by more than 50%. This serious stuff, that needs to be better known, is why awareness campaigns—like Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout October—are vital.
But as key as early detection can be, there are many steps you can take even earlier on to reduce your risk of getting breast cancer in the first place. What’s more, these steps will improve your general health, so they’re an all-around win.
The even better news? A key component of breast cancer prevention involves one of our favorite activities: eating! Yup, that’s right: Your diet can make a huge difference (so can physical activity, waist size, and aspirin—check with your doc on the latter).
But let’s talk food choices today.
1. Eat a Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil. For a study published last month, 4,282 women between 60 and 80, and with a high risk of cardiovascular disease, were asked to either follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts, or follow a control diet. The findings were dramatic: the women who ate the Mediterranean diet with extra olive oil were 62 percent less likely to contract breast cancer, compared with women who just reduced their fat intake. (Eating the diet supplemented with nuts—especially walnuts—resulted in a decreased risk, too, but a smaller and statistically insignificant one.) The DHA component of fish oils (you can get DHA from algae, too) also seems to be important in decreasing breast cancer. All are part of the Mediterranean diet.
While the researchers can’t definitively state exactly why extra virgin olive oil is so helpful in preventing cancer, they have some ideas: several components in extra virgin olive oil, like oleic acid and squalene, have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. The most regulated and thus purist forms of extra virgin olive oil (some countries are not as on top of quality control and some brands are diluted with generic vegetable oil) appear to be of Spanish and U.S. (California) origin.
2. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These food groups have phytochemicals whose chemopreventive properties can provide a powerful anti-cancer boost. Research suggests that a plant-based diet can decrease the odds of getting estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer (one-fourth of all breast cancers) by 20 percent.
3. Eat cabbage (and other crucifers). Sounds random, but one study out of Michigan State University found that women who’d eaten a lot of cabbage in their early adolescence had drastically lower rates of breast cancer. Women who’d eaten moderate amounts of cabbage in their youth but boosted their intake in adulthood showed a decrease in risk, too, so there’s still time! Eat that sauerkraut, ladies.
READ MORE: The Stress-Breast Cancer Link