Breast Health 101

Although the words "breast cancer" strike fear into the heart of every woman, the odds of surviving this malignancy have greatly improved.

According to the American Cancer Society, 90% of women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer are alive five years after being diagnosed1—up from 75% in 1975.

For those with localized disease, the current five-year survival rate is 99%.

Women are Surviving Breast Cancer Longer Than Ever

Improvement in breast cancer awareness and detection has resulted in a number of cases being diagnosed at an earlier, more treatable stage.

Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs has a poorer prognosis. Breast cancer treatment has also advanced at a rapid pace.

The ability to identify tumor characteristics, including hormone responsiveness and genetic mutations, has resulted in individualized therapies targeted to a woman's particular disease.

More has been learned about the use of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—the current staples of cancer therapy—which has enabled women to avoid, in many cases, disfiguring mastectomies, needless chemo, or numerous radiation treatments.

Breast Cancer Prevention Basics

Women are more aware than ever about what they can do to prevent breast cancer. Researchers have identified several lifestyle factors which could increase a woman’s risk.

For example, the results of an analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute determined a 24% higher risk of breast cancer in current smokers and a 13% greater risk in former smokers compared to women who never smoked.

Drinking alcohol is also known to increase breast cancer risk. An analysis published in the British Journal of Cancer revealed a 61% greater risk of breast cancer in heavy drinkers compared with nondrinkers and occasional drinkers.3

Exercise has been linked with protection against breast cancer. It has been estimated that women who engage in moderate to vigorous activity three to five days per week have a 20% to 40% lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who don't exercise.4

Being overweight also increases cancer risk, but apparently only among postmenopausal women.5

Can Supplements Help Prevent Breast Cancer?

Increased intake of specific nutrients has been associated with a lower risk of the disease. For example, an analysis of 26 studies that included 883,585 women confirmed that increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with lower breast cancer risk.6

Increased vitamin D and vitamin B6 levels7 have been associated with a protective effect against breast cancer.

Research has also uncovered a protective effect of aspirin as well.8 In a comparison of women who used multivitamin and calcium supplements, the risk of breast cancer was 30% greater in nonusers.9

Vitamin C has shown a protective effect against breast cancer in animal studies.10 Higher intake of the vitamin have been correlated with improved breast cancer survival in women.11

Can Food Prevent Breast Cancer?

Broccoli, in addition to containing vitamin C, is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables.

Research conducted at the University of California, Santa Barbara indicates that the cruciferous vegetable compound known as sulforaphane may act as a breast cancer preventive.12 

And still other research indicates a protective role for olive oil polyphenols, a prominent feature of the Mediterranean diet.13

The Bottom Line

By maintaining awareness of the ongoing breakthroughs in the understanding of breast cancer and taking advantage of the findings, we can begin to lower the incidence of this disease that still takes the lives of millions of women every decade.

Please share this post to help spread the word!


  1. Available at: Accessed January 14, 2015. 
  2. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Apr 17;105(8):515-25. 
  3. Br J Cancer. 2015 Feb 3;112(3):580-93. 
  4. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2013 Jun;125(11-12):297-301. 
  5. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2014;15(22):9579-86. 
  6. BMJ. 2013 Jun 27;346:f3706. 
  7. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012 Nov;21(11):1942-8. 
  8. Breast Cancer Res. 2008;10(2):R38. 
  9. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2013 Jun;12(3):38-46. 
  10. Carcinogenesis. 2009 Jul;30(7):1202-8. 
  11. Eur J Cancer. 2014 May;50(7):1223-31. 
  12. Carcinogenesis. 2008 Dec;29(12):2360-8. 
  13. BMC Cancer. 2008 Dec 18;8:377.


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