Women's health * 50+ health * Healthy living

Lifestyle can lower family breast cancer risk

Healthy lifestyle can overcome family history of breast cancer Works for all women

A family history of breast cancer may indicate a genetic factor in the development of the disease. Although this represents a minority of cases, for those women affected it may seem that there is no point in taking preventative steps.

But a new study has found that following a healthy lifestyle designed to reduce breast cancer risk has a positive effect on all women, regardless of their family history - at least in the case of late-onset breast cancer.

One reason for these findings may be that a family history of breast cancer is not necessarily a sign of a genetic link, as study leader Robert E. Gramling explains: "It's important to note that a family history of breast cancer can arise in part due to shared unhealthy behaviours that have been passed down for generations - untangling the degree to which genes, environments, and behaviours contribute to the disease is difficult. But our study shows that engaging in a healthy lifestyle can help women, even when familial predisposition is involved."

About the study

The researchers analysed data from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study that began in 1993 and looked at the lifestyles of women aged 50-79. Women with a previous history of breast cancer, or with a close relative with early-onset breast cancer were excluded from the study.

The women were assigned to one of two groups - those with a family history of late-onset breast cancer and those who did not.

The women were further classified according to how well they adhered to a healthy lifestyle, consisting of a minimum of 20 minutes of vigorous exercise at least five days a week, maintaining a normal weight, and drinking no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.

The study found that there was a reduction in breast cancer rates for both groups when the healthy lifestyle was followed - from 6.97 per 1,000 to 5.94 in those with a family history of the disease and from 4.67 to 3.51 in the other group.

While these figures may not look very dramatic, when translated into actual cases of women who might have contracted the disease this means a reduction of 15 for every 100 possible cases of the disease in those with a family history.

The study is published in Breast Cancer Research and was carried out at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

This article was published on Wed 13 October 2010



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