Taking Appropriate Steps Can Help Postmenopausal Women Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Going through the menopausal transition has caused me (and others) to really focus on what can be done to maintain – and, in some cases, improve – our health. One of the big areas to focus on is diet. What you put in your body can make a big difference in your current health as well as what conditions you may – or may not – develop.

    And that’s important. Take breast cancer, for instance.  The Cleveland Clinic notes that while menopause itself isn’t associated with increasing your risk of cancer, women do see an increased risk of breast cancer as they age. Furthermore, some drugs that are used to manage menopausal symptoms can have an impact on your risk of developing cancer. “About 70 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 50, and almost half are age 65 and older,” the clinic’s website states.

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    Here’s where food may have a role to play in helping you lower your risk. Researchers at Zhejiang University in China undertook a meta-analysis of scientific articles that had been published on intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFAs) found in fish and breast cancer.  PUFAs are involved in the chemical messages in the brain that help control blood vessel activity and the immune system. This fatty acid also has been linked to a lower risk of heart problems.

    The Chinese researchers reviewed studies that involved 883,585 participants from the United States, Asia and Europe as well as 20,000 cases of breast cancer. The studies’ follow-up time ranged from four years to 20 years.

    The researchers’ analysis found that higher consumption of PUFA is associated with a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Their calculations also found that there was a five percent lower risk of breast cancer with every 0.1-gram-per-day increase in the intake of fatty acids.

    So what are oily fish? According to ScienceDaily, these types of fish have oils throughout the fillet and in the belly cavity around its gut. In comparison, white fish only have oils in the liver. In general, oily fish swim in mid-waters or near the surface of the water. They are considered a good source of vitamins A and D, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. However, because they are predators and are high on the food chain, they are more likely to contain toxic substances.  Oily fish include salmon, tuna, trout, ilish, mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies.

    There are other risk factors that can have been linked to a greater risk of breast cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these factors include:

    • Having been diagnosed with cancer in one breast.
    • Going through a later menopause after the age of 55.
    • Having the first menstrual cycle early in life (before the age of 10).
    • Having a first child after the age of 30.
    • Never having children.
    • Never breastfeeding.
    • Being overweight.
    • Having a sedentary lifestyle.
    • Smoking.
    • Drinking alcohol excessively.
    • Having poor nutrition, especially low amounts of vitamin D.
    • Taking combined estrogen and progestin for a long period of time. Once a woman goes off of this type of hormone therapy, her risk appears to decrease over three years after cessation. Also, women taking estrogen only in the Women’s Health Initiative study did not experience an increased risk in breast cancer with an average use of seven years.

    So how can you lower your risk for breast cancer (besides eating two servings of fatty fish each week)? The Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

    • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
    • Don’t smoke.
    • Control your weight.
    • Be physically active. Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly. Also, try to do strength training at least twice a week.
    • Limit the dose and duration of hormone therapy.
    • Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution.
    • Be vigilant about breast cancer detection by doing self-examinations. If you notice any changes such as a new lump or skin changes, consult your doctor. Also be sure to get recommended mammograms and other screenings.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Cleveland Clinic. (2010). Breast cancer and menopause.


    Mayo Clinic. (2012). Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk.

    MedlinePlus. (2013). Fish habit may reduce breast cancer risk, study suggests.

    ScienceDaily. (nd.). Oily fish.

    Zheng, J., et al. (2013). Intake of fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of breast cancer: meta-analysis of data from 21 independent prospective cohort studies. BMJ.

Published On: June 28, 2013