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Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. To demonstrate how dramatically lifestyle choices can impact breast cancer risk, researchers followed for about seven years a group of about 30,000 postmenopausal women without history of breast cancer and found that imply limiting alcohol, eating mostly plant foods, and maintaining a normal body weight was associated with a 62 percent lower breast cancer risk.

Remarkably, eating a plant-based diet along with walking every day may improve our cancer defenses within just two weeks. Researchers attributed this effect to a decrease in levels of a cancer-promoting growth hormone called IGF-1, likely due to the reduced intake of animal protein.

It isn’t only animal protein that may be harmful, but the carcinogens in cooked meat. The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project reported that women who eat more grilled, barbecued, or smoked meats over their lifetimes may have as much as 47 percent higher odds of breast cancer, and the Iowa Women’s Health Study found that women who ate their bacon, beefsteak, and burgers “very well done” had nearly five times the odds of getting breast cancer compared with women who preferred these meats rare or medium. Scientists were able to link the consumption of fried meat with the amount of DNA damage found within women’s breast tissue, the type of damage that can potentially cause a normal cell to mutate into a cancer cell.

Cholesterol may also play a role in the development and progression of breast cancer, as cancer appears to feed on it. The cancer is thought to be using the cholesterol to make estrogen or to shore up tumor membranes to help the cancer migrate and invade more tissue. In other words, breast tumors may take advantage of high circulating cholesterol levels to fuel and accelerate their own growth.

Consuming less meat and more fruits, vegetables, and fiber, as well as flaxseeds, soy foods, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts may reduce breast cancer risk and improve survival chances.

Image Credit: DragonImages / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

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