Barcelona, Spain—the European Breast Cancer conference took place earlier this week and European doctors had some troubling news for their Western counterparts. According to the researchers, up to a third of breast cancer cases in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more. While better treatments, early diagnosis, and mammogram screenings still dramatically slow breast cancer, experts urge the public to now focus on changing lifestyle behaviors that can prevent breast cancer in the first place.
Carlo La Vecchia, head of epidemiology at the University of Milan, spoke at the conference yesterday, citing figures from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which estimates that 25-30% of breast cancer cases could be avoided if women focused on eating less and exercising more. Dr. Michelle Holmes of Harvard University corroborated this argument, using evidence from her own study on cancer and lifestyle factors. Specifically, she argues that while people assume that their chances of getting cancer wholly depend on their genes, this isn’t necessarily the case. Instead, she stated: “the genes have been there for thousands of years, but if cancer rates are changing in a lifetime, that doesn’t have much to do with genes”.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women. While a woman’s lifetime chance of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 8, obese women are 60% more likely to develop any cancer than normal-weight women. Researchers believe hormones are a strong contributing factor to an increased risk of cancer, especially breast cancer, since breast cancer is fueled by estrogen. Estrogen is produced in fat tissue, so experts suspect that the fatter a woman is, the more estrogen she’s likely to produce. However, despite the growing evidence of the link between obesity and breast cancer, it’s still a sensitive issue since many misconstrue the argument, claiming that doctors are blaming women for their own disease.