Minimizing Breast Cancer Risk

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Minimizing Breast Cancer Risk

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According to the American Cancer Society, over 1.7 million people are expected to be newly diagnosed with some form of cancer this year alone. The causes of cancer are complex; genetics and our environment can play a large role. So while there is no sure way to prevent it, the tests, supplements, and lifestyle recommendations outlined below, along with the guidance of a trusted physician, can help minimize your risk.

Rick Assesment Tests

There are currently many tests available to assess the risk of breast cancer – for the purpose of this article I have chosen 2 to mention:

1) Estrogen-Metabolism Assessment: This valuable tool evaluates how your body metabolizes and processes estrogen. Certain types of estrogen metabolites may increase the risk and worsen the prognosis of breast cancer. Testing the levels of these metabolites in your blood or urine can help determine whether lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, are warranted in reducing the level of unhealthy estrogens in the body.

2) BRCA-Gene Testing for Women with a Strong Family History of Cancer. Certain gene mutations can indicate that some women have a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Women who have inherited the harmful BRCA-gene mutation are about five times more likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetimes than women without it. Also, certain ethnic and geographic populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews, Norwegians, Dutch and Icelandic people have a higher prevalence of BRCA 1 and 2 mutations. Knowing whether or not you carry the mutation can help you understand your personal risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

Cancer-risk testing, although not yet perfect, is highly recommended, especially if you have a family history of the disease. Taking these tests can also help your doctor proactively tailor your care, depending on any medical predispositions.

The Importance of Lifestyle Choices in Minimizing Cancer Risk

Lifestyle can also play a very important role in minimizing your risk of cancer. I highly recommend the book, Keeping aBreast, by Dr. Khalid Mahmud, which offers the following suggestions for maintaining an optimal lifestyle (some of these also appear in well-regarded studies).

  • Nutrition: Good nutrition and targeted supplementation can help to reduce cancer risk. A low-glycemic diet that includes lean protein and more than 5 daily servings of vegetables is recommended. (See below for some of the best cancer-fighting foods and supplements.)
  • Exercise: Exercise programs emphasizing an increase in lean muscle mass offer benefits twofold by decreasing inflammation which in turn lowers cancer risk. On the other hand, an excess of fat in the body can increase levels of estrogen which increases the risk of breast cancer. One should aim for a BMI (body mass index) of 25.
  • Red Wine: Drinking red wine in moderation (less then 3 small glasses, 5 ounces each, per week) can reduce free radicals that damage DNA. Drinking in excess and smoking have the opposite effect of increasing free radicals, interfering with the body’s ability to repair potential cancer cells.
Consider Seeking an Integrative Medical Practitioner

A board-certified physician with experience in functional medicine can work with you to safely tailor a vitamin and supplement plan based on your personal test results and health concerns.

Eat More Cancer-Fighting Foods

Here are a few scientifically well regarded, cancer-fighting foods and supplements that a doctor may include in a personalized care plan:

Indole-3 Carbinol (I3C) – I3C enables the body to metabolize estrogen in a positive way; this is especially important if tests indicate high risk or a family history of breast cancer.[1] Good sources of I3C are cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, kale, and cauliflower. Those with a high-risk profile can take a supplement of I3C and should aim for 200-400 mg per day.
Omega-3 EPA-DHA Fatty Acids – Omega-3 has been shown to have a positive impact on preventing several forms of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. You can increase your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids by eating fatty fish such as wild salmon. 1,500-3,000 mg of EPA-DHA Omega-3’s combined per day is considered optimal for most individuals.[2]
Vitamin-E Gamma-Tocopherol – “Whole” vitamin E is a potent anti-inflammatory vitamin and antioxidant. Most vitamin E is sold in the “alpha-tocopherol” form so make sure you are supplementing with whole vitamin E with “gamma-tocopherol.” Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, greens, and avocados. Suggested supplementation is 50-200 mg per day.[3]
Vitamin D – Your vitamin D levels should be checked regularly. Our practice regards an ideal vitamin D 25-hydroxy blood level to be between 40-80 ng/ml. Though Vitamin D can be obtained naturally from the sun, if you don’t spend enough time in the sun, or if your body has trouble absorbing it, you may need to supplement. The suggested dosage is 5,000 IU a day, with levels checked a few times a year by your doctor.[4]
Fiber – Research has linked a high-fiber diet to a reduced risk of colon cancer. 35 grams a day should be the goal. If dietary fiber levels are inadequate, supplementing with over-the-counter fiber is recommended.
Magnesium –Magnesium plays a role in enabling the body’s synthesis and repair of DNA, and research has linked low levels of magnesium to elevated cancer risk. Foods containing magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, fish, and avocados. 200-600 mg at the end of the day can also calm nerves and help with any sleep issues. Magnesium Glycinate is one form of magnesium supplement that absorbs particularly well to the body.[5]
Folic Acid – Folate, a B-complex vitamin, is helpful in building red blood cells and also can help regulate estrogen. Dietary folate is preferred, but supplementation may also be needed, especially for women who drink more than one alcoholic beverage per day. The ideal level of folic acid thought to be protective against breast cancer is 400 mcg per day. Folate is found in leafy greens, asparagus, beans and lentils, and avocado.[6]
If you are concerned about breast cancer, our doctors at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine can work with you to tailor a scientifically-based program designed to lower the risk of cancer, while also helping you enjoy a healthy and active life.


[1] Brew, C.T., Aronchik, I., et al. 2009. “Indole-3-carbinol inhibits MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cell motility and induces stress fibers and focal adhesion formation by activation of Rho kinase activity.” International Journal of Cancer, May 15;124(10):2294-302.
[2] Simonpoulos, A.P. 2002. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomed Pharmacother, Oct; 56(8):365-79.
[3] Dietrich, M., Traber, M.G., et al. 2006. “Does gamma-tocopherol play a role in the primary prevention of heart disease and cancer? A review.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Aug;25(4):292-9.
[4] Garland, C.F., Gorham, E.D., et al. 2009. “Vitamin D for cancer prevention; global perspective.” Annals of Epidemiology, Jul;19(7):468-83
[5] Rosanoff, A., Weaver, C.M., et al. 2012. “Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: Are the health consequences underestimated?” Nutrition Review, Mar; 70(3): 153-64.
[6] Chen, P., Li, C., Li, X., Li, J., Chu, R., and Wang, H. 2014. “Higher dietary folate reduces breast cancer risk.” British Journal of Cancer, 110(9):2327-38.


Posted: Oct 26, 2015. Updated: September 24, 2018.

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About the Author:

Lisa Lilienfield, MD
Lisa Lilienfield, M.D. is board-certified in family medicine and is a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Dr. Lilienfield practices Acupuncture and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and has developed an expertise in both Women’s Health and Sports Medicine. Dr. Lilienfield also serves as a Clinical Assistant Professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine’s Department of Community and Family Medicine. To read Dr. Lilienfield’s complete bio, click here