Study confirms impact of lifestyle on breast cancer risk

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists have carried out the biggest ever review of research into the links between lifestyle and breast cancer risk and concluded that more than two fifths of cases of the disease could be prevented if women adopted healthier lifestyles.

Around 45,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, but researchers at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) have shown that thousands of these cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol consumption, taking regular exercise and breastfeeding.

Scientists at Imperial College London looked at 81 studies and added their findings to their previous cancer prevention report, published in 2007, which was based on the results of 873 studies.

Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for the WCRF, said that the study provides the "clearest picture we have ever had" on how a woman's lifestyle affects her risk of breast cancer.

"This means we are now more sure than ever before that by limiting the amount of alcohol they drink, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active, women can make a significant difference to their risk," he confirmed.

"As well as this, there is also convincing evidence that mothers who breastfeed reduce their risk, and breastfeeding probably also reduces babies' chances of gaining excess weight as they grow."

In light of the findings, the WCRF advises women to remain as lean as possible without becoming underweight and to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.

The charity also recommends that women who drink alcohol should have no more than one drink per day and new mums should breastfeed exclusively for up to six months before adding other liquids and foods.

Marilyn Gentry, chief executive of the WCRF, said that the charity's Continuous Update Project aims to provide "access to advice that is based on the latest scientific research".

"These are still quite early stages in the project but once it is fully up and running it will mean that people all over the world will always have access to up-to-date advice about how they can make lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk of cancer," she explained. "We believe this can play an important role in the fight against cancer."

Dr Alison Ross, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, commented: "This review provides further confirmation that women can reduce the risk of breast cancer by maintaining a healthy bodyweight, cutting down on alcohol and being physically active.

"Having a healthy lifestyle doesn't guarantee a woman won't get breast cancer, but it reduces her risk.

"If women attend screening and keep an eye out for any symptoms that could be breast cancer they are more likely to pick up any early signs of the disease when treatment is most likely to be successful."