Are we causing our own breast cancer?

Up to one-third of breast cancer cases in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more, according to experts at the European breast cancer conference in Barcelona.

It’s a sensitive topic because it feels like scientists are basically saying women are causing their own breast cancer. Like sun exposure to melanoma and smoking to lung cancer, researchers are saying heavier women have a greater chance of getting breast cancer. (Up to 60 percent greater chance in fact!)

From The Associated Press’s story:

“…Michelle Holmes, a cancer expert at Harvard University, said people might wrongly think their chances of getting cancer are more dependent on their genes than their lifestyle.”

“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,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. In Europe, there were about 421,000 new cases and nearly 90,000 deaths in 2008, the latest available figures. The United States last year saw more than 190,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths.”

“A woman’s lifetime chance of getting breast cancer is about one in eight. Obese women are up to 60 percent more likely to develop any cancer than normal-weight women, according to a 2006 study by British researchers.”

“Many breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, a hormone produced in fat tissue. So experts suspect that the fatter a woman is, the more estrogen she’s likely to produce, which could in turn spark breast cancer. Even in slim women, exercise can help reduce the cancer risk by converting more of the body’s fat into muscle.”

“…Tara Beaumont, a clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, a British charity, said her agency has always been very careful about issuing similar lifestyle advice. She noted that three of the major risk factors for breast cancer — gender, age and family history — are clearly beyond anyone’s control.”

” ‘It is incredibly difficult to isolate specific factors, therefore women should in no way feel that they are responsible for developing breast cancer,’ she told the AP on Thursday.”

“Yet Karen Benn, a spokeswoman for Europa Donna, a patient-focused breast cancer group, said it was impossible to ignore the increasingly stronger links between lifestyle and breast cancer.”

“If we know there are healthier choices, we can’t not recommend them just because people might misinterpret the advice and feel guilty,” she said. “If we are going to prevent breast cancer, then this message needs to get out, particularly to younger women.”

OK so if we accept the premise that women need to eat better and lose weight to prevent cancer, here’s the kicker from another news story earlier in the week.

The story states that women, especially older women, must do moderate exercise for at least an hour a day before they will begin to lose any weight!

Their example in the story was a 60-year-old woman but even I see a difference in my metabolism from my first baby to my third baby. I’m having a much harder time taking off the weight with my third than with my first or second.

So they’re telling us we have to eat better and lose weight but our metabolisms aren’t exactly cooperating in this battle.

So what do you think: Is it fair to compare weight to smoking as far as causing cancer? Is it fair to say that women are in some cases causing their own breast cancer? Will this story make you change your ways to help prevent breast cancer? What to do you think of the corollary story that women need an HOUR a day of moderate exercise to begin to move weight without substantial cutbacks in foods?

99 comments Add your comment

DB

March 26th, 2010
9:04 am

Well, it’s certainly a novel way of looking at it, but it’s hard to argue with the idea that weight is a liability when it comes to extended good health.

Am I reading this right? Is it really being suggested that it might hurt women’s feelings if you tell them, “Hey, you know, if you don’t lose the weight, you’ve got a higher chance of breast cancer”? If it’s true, then women need to get over themselves. We don’t hesitate to tell people that obesity contributes to heart disease and diabetes — why shy away from including cancer in the litany of things you should think about before you slather butter on the extra roll at dinner? Is it just because it’s their breasts?

The story on needing an hour a day of exercise didn’t surprise me, but it did point out that I’m not imagining that I’m not getting enough exercise. I’ve fought a constant battle with weight all my life, and as I get older, it’s getting harder and harder, even as I eat less and less.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

March 26th, 2010
9:11 am

DB — I want to get these last baby pounds off before my metabolism changes even more. i was back to my pre baby weight with both one and two. And was close with no 3 but then i stopped nursing and my weight shot up — and then my brother was in the ICU and it shot up a few more pounds. And I know I need to get it off before it gets any harder.

lead balloon

March 26th, 2010
9:15 am

I am not sure how we got to this point. Maybe it was our desire to not hurt anyone’s feelings. That certainly was a noble goal, but there are certain side effects that go along with that.

It has become socially unacceptable to point out a person’s weight problem.

If a person is a total drunk, we will call them out on it. We will tell them to get help. We will have interventions. But if the person has a food addiction and eats to unhealthy amounts, we don’t say a word.

We stand by and watch as obese people order supersized fastfood meals.

If a known drunk was ordering shot after shot of alcohol, we’d act on it.

What’s the difference?

Andrea

March 26th, 2010
9:22 am

This politically correct b/s of not wanting to hurt some women’s feelings by not being candidly honest with them is literally killing them. It has been widely accepted and proven that there is a direct correlation between obesity and health problems. We have to start taking control of our own health and stop looking for magic pills to make everything better.

Similarly, I do think in some people (men & women) there could be a genetic disposition to having cancer. There was a study done that concluded that some types of cancerous traits can be genetic and are more prevalent in some families. With that being said, there is no reason to turn that negative into a positive through eating right and exercise. Having a genetic trait does not mean you can’t win. I look at it like having a diabetic or hypertension trait in your family. You can fix it through diet and exercise. Maybe the same can be said with some forms of cancer.

By no means am I saying it is the panacea for all cancers, but more exercise and better food choices can’t hurt any of us.

Jeff

March 26th, 2010
9:24 am

If women were causing their own cancer by smoking cigarette’s would anyone “blame the victim”? I think not. It’s just that women and the wieght issue get in to that world of hurting a woman’s feelings and we all know how our society is senisitive to that right now. Not some of you as individuals on here, but you see it on a national level where everyone is afraid to make women mad, etc.

On the flip side, women live longer than men, so until we start making efforts to close that gap, this type of issue is one I’m going to ignore. I’m sure that’ll ruffle a couple of feathers.

JATL

March 26th, 2010
9:26 am

Why is it okay to tell someone -”HEY, I know you enjoy smoking, but it causes cancer,” or “HEY, if you don’t lose weight you are probably going to get diabetes, ” but we can’t tell people that they have a higher likelihood of getting breast cancer if they don’t lose weight and exercise? Is losing weight and exercising a bad thing? We’ve been told for years that being overweight will do lots of bad things to us -heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., so why is this so bad? I don’t think they’re trying to make women feel guilty -they’re trying to wake us up!

I have to say -a full-out discussion of merkins would have been a fun Friday topic! Still laughing…

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

March 26th, 2010
9:29 am

JATL — I just deleted all that!!!!!! — do not put that up again — that is completely NOT OK for this blog — you linked basically a pornographic photo to this site — PLEASE don’t talk about it anymore or post any photos — My boss would have me ban people — I just deleted it all —- please no more of that!!!

JATL

March 26th, 2010
9:48 am

OK Theresa -that was SO not porn! Plus, I certainly didn’t start the discussion. But ok. I’m STILL laughing -it’s the funniest thing I’ve heard of in ages!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

March 26th, 2010
9:57 am

I clicked on your link and it was a lady’s Vijay-jay as Oprah would say!!!!

Becky

March 26th, 2010
10:00 am

I lost my best friend to breast cancer 6 years ago..She was 31 years old..She was not by a long shot obese, unless you call 5′4″ 130 lbs. obese..She didn’t drink or eat fried foods..She did smoke though..

I do however have two coworkers that have spouses that have just finished chemo for breast cancer..Both of them are big time drinkers , one smokes (like a chimney), one is heavy and one is very obese..

This is another reason that I have changed my eating habits..I don’t consider myself obese, but it wouldn’t hurt me to drop about 20-25 lbs., I have never been a smoker and I don’t drink..As others said, we say something when people drink a lot and we (I do) say something to people that smoke, so why shouldn’t we be able to say something to people about the dangers of being overweight?

lead balloon

March 26th, 2010
10:04 am

This will probably not go over well, but I find it odd that breast cancer gets all the attention.

I never hear of walks for the cure for testicular cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, ect

SuwaneeMommy

March 26th, 2010
10:07 am

Meaningful changes in public health trends will not be seen until our whole economy changes. Almost all of us are worried about money and job performance. It’s our work ethic and how we were raised. Extra time at the office means job security–that’s extra time we could be exercising. Employers and workers need to make fitness a priority. It’s not about weight loss contests at work, it’s really about letting people feel OK about taking an hour at lunch or at the end of the day to walk around the neighborhood or go to the gym. We know how to accomplish weight loss–less calories in, more calories out. What we need to do is adjust our priorities and make exercising more acceptable at work (rather than just something the “fitness freaks” do).

Wayne

March 26th, 2010
10:13 am

It’s a coverup for the Vijay-jay (as Oprah says?), and apparently, young women are wearing them to proms. That’s porn and your bosses would get mad at that?

And here I thought the NE was uptight!

Wayne

March 26th, 2010
10:14 am

What I find most interesting is that diet and exercise are to be considered when thinking about breast cancer, but hey, let’s change how we detect it by not getting mammograms so often hey…

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
10:18 am

It’s not like the report came out and said to women that they’re bad people for being overweight and not exercising, it simply said that being overweight and not exercising leads to a increased likelihood of breast cancer. If women, or men for that matter who bring on a litany of health issues by not exercising and being overweight, feel bad about that it is an internal mechanism. If you feel bad about your CHOICE to not eat right and exercise, then you need to own that and realize YOU feel bad for not doing what experts recommend for a healthy life. And I don’t think that the reports are saying “women are causing their breast cancer”….what they’re saying is “this population of women are not actively trying to PREVENT breast cancer”.

And whats the deal with being so incensed that it takes an HOUR a day of exercise to lose weight? 60 minutes is not a huge investment in time. You don’t have to do it all at one time. Heck you don’t even have to do it every day for an hour. You could do 45 minutes 4 days a week and 90 minutes three days a week. I might get some heat for this, but I would say that most people have an hour a day to exercise, what they don’t have is the will to do it. Waking up a little earlier and/or going to bed a little later is easier, but the time is there to do it, and every time you say “I don’t have the time” most people should be saying “I just don’t have the will”.

RJ

March 26th, 2010
10:33 am

My brother’s mother-in-law has breast cancer and she is a small woman. Her mother and grandmother also died from breast cancer. If you’re genetically predisposed to cancer, you are likely to get it no matter how healthy you eat. I don’t think most women don’t know the health risks associated with obesity, they just find it difficult to lose the weight. I also don’t believe that everybody is meant to be a size 2. My metabolism has definitely slowed down as I’ve grown older. To combat it I eat healthier and exercise regularly. I don’t agree about having to work out an hour to see results though. If you workout at least 30 minutes a day and eat fewer calories the weight will come off.

Becky

March 26th, 2010
10:34 am

I agree Tiger that all of us should be able to do something for 30 mins or so each day..I know that I do..It’s like my coworker that has had some pretty serious health problems for the past year..Now they have told her that she has to have eye surgery or go blind..Her response is that she can’t afford to be off work for 2 weeks..To me, that would be a no brainer..

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
10:37 am

And YES…it is fair to compare living an unhealthy nutritional and exercise lifestyle to smoking. Both are CHOICES that are known to have negative ramifications to health. It’s not like this study is saying anything really new. We have known for a long, long time that eating like crap and leading a sedentary lifestyle will lead to poor health in the future. If we draw the line and say “well smokers knew they were doing something that could make them sick” and don’t shine that bright light on ourselves for engaging in activities that could make us sick, we’re just being disingenuous and hypocritical.

Michelle

March 26th, 2010
10:40 am

Tiger, I think you are exactly right. Most people don’t have the will. It is very difficult to find the motivation to get started and then stay motived.

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
10:43 am

The funny thing is that metabolism is equal opportunity. When i was 20, I could think about working out and lose a pound….now that I’m close to 40, when I think about eating a donut I gain two!

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
10:46 am

@Michelle…I know…boy do I know. In my early 30’s I completely slacked off, then I got back on the road several years ago and that was TOUGH. I don’t think most people realize that once you stick to it for a couple of years, its a lifestyle and you can’t imagine it not being a big priority.

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
10:50 am

@ theresa….your words…” I know I need to get it off before it gets any harder”….so what are you prepared to do?

Michelle

March 26th, 2010
10:54 am

Uggh…I SO need to get to that mentality! In my late 20’s and early 30’s we went to clubs a lot. I would dance the night away! Once I had the little guy, that all stopped. Now I just can’t seem to find anything that I enjoy!

I’ve started with making some better food choices, portion control, decreasing soda, etc. It has helped somewhat. Now I need to tackle the exercise hurdle! Now that it’s getting nicer outside, I think it will be easier!

I want to be healther so that as my little guy gets older I can actually do things with him. He’ll be 17 when I’m 50! And, I would not want him to be embarrassed by having a mom who sits around all the time!

DB

March 26th, 2010
11:17 am

@Theresa: I clicked on JATL’s link and didn’t see anything pornographic — just a picture that was basically more than what a lot of the Sports Illustrated swim suit models had on!

And, just to vent: I absolutely despise the cutsey “Vijay-jay” or other terms applied to intimate anatomy. It’s a vagina. We’re all adults here. Even kids know what a vagina is. Call it what it is, and stop giggling over it, and if someone gets offended, OH WELL, GET OVER IT. (And, maybe I didn’t get the right link, but I sure didn’t see a vagina when I clicked on it!) And I would submit that this blog has a LOOOONGG way to go before reaching the heights (or depths) of some of the topics in the “Misadventures in Atlanta” blog, so if your boss gets his/her boxers in a wad, tell him to start over there, first!

TechMom

March 26th, 2010
11:17 am

Exercise and shedding weight are good all around for everyone; men, women, children, those pre-disposed to cancers or other diseases.

I laugh at the people who tell me ‘they don’t have time’ to exercise and then sit at the ball field while their kid is practicing for 1-2 hours three days a week and don’t even bother to walk. No one said you had to go to the gym to get exercise and unless you’re coaching your kid’s team, go for a walk. Sure it’s not real exciting to make 15 laps around the field but it sure beats sitting on your fanny. Or the people who watch American Idol… record it, go for a walk and by the time you get back you could watch the 2 hours in probably 45 mins if you fast forwarded through all the relentless banter and commercials!

I struggle a little more with the healthy eating since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of time to cook with our busy schedule. The worst part is the portion sizes if do go out/pick something up. We’ve started sharing meals, which also helps with the cost. I also try to serve a salad with dinner as often as possible figuring if we eat more of the healthy stuff first, then maybe our portions of the other foods will begin to shrink.

Wayne

March 26th, 2010
11:22 am

@TechMom: How about putting a TV next to the treadmill or elliptical (like I did!) and watch your program while working out? I did that for a very long time and lost a lot of weight. Especially when you watch a high-energy show, you don’t even notice the time.

Wayne

March 26th, 2010
11:23 am

Speaking about portions; did anyone hear about the “Last Supper” paintings?

Becky

March 26th, 2010
11:24 am

@TechMom…We have a stationary bike that stays in the bedroom, but at night, it’s no big deal to roll in out to sit in front of the TV..I can “ride” on it for as long as I want to and still watch TV..As for sharing meals, we do that a lot, glad to hear that we aren’t the only ones that do that..

Becky

March 26th, 2010
11:25 am

@Wayne..I heard something about it, not enough to comment on it though..What happened?

JATL

March 26th, 2010
11:25 am

Thanks everyone! No, there was no vagina (DB-I, too, HATE the term va-jay-jay) on the site. The front, pubic region was shown, but you couldn’t even see labia. Whatever, many think the body’s more private areas are pornographic and dirty -sad, but true!

JATL

March 26th, 2010
11:26 am

Do tell Wayne -I googled it and only got stuff about real Last Supper paintings for sale.

lead balloon

March 26th, 2010
11:33 am

I read that about the last supper. Basically they looked at most famous paintings of the Last Supper and noticed that throughout history, the portion sizes continually increased in the paintings.

One thing I find interesting is that in no pic of the Last Supper that I have ever seen are the people actually eating in the way discussed in the bible. It is obvious from reading the text that the people would rest on one elbow on the floor with their feet behind them. No actual table.

Roaming Gnome

March 26th, 2010
11:47 am

I do not buy that its women’s fault they are doing this to their selves.. It really could jump generations.

I saw the pictures of the Last Supper, I am surprised they did not have him eating a big mac and a coke!

The word Vijay-jay cracks me up… I would rather someone call it that, than some of the “words” that are used for it…

JJ

March 26th, 2010
11:47 am

TechMom I agree with you 100%. When my daughter was playing softball and we had to go to her practices, several of us Moms would walk around the park for the hour or so the kids practiced. Bogan Park has a fabulous walking path, and so does George Pierce Park. I alway took my dog to her practices so I had a reason to go walk…. Just last weekend I went to a friend’s son’s ball game, took my dog, and after the game we strolled around the park.

Having dogs that require walks is a great way to get some exercise. I walk both dogs every single day, unless it is pouring down rain.

Wow, just wow...

March 26th, 2010
11:50 am

…this blog has morphed from a discussion on a cause of breast cancer to merkins and vaginas, to The Last Supper and Biblical conotations – Theresa, I hope you bosses appreciate your ability to cross sell what journalism envokes…

@WOW

March 26th, 2010
11:53 am

this is the great thing about this site.. Yes we go off on different subjects…. but thats is ok… :).. Have a sense of Humor or go play some where else.. We are not gripping about it so why are you?

[...] Continue reading here: Are we causing our own breast <b>cancer</b>? | Momania: A Blog for Busy Moms [...]

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
12:02 pm

@Wayne and Becky…I agree with combining the exercise with TV. We’ve got a basement where the stairmaster and lifecycle are set up and a TV down there. Every weekday morning at about 5:30 I’m down there watching Sportscenter for 45 minutes. The time flies. I think most people just equate exercise with agony. I don’t think it has to be that way. Heck, sometimes on the weekend when I’m working out in the afternoon, it’s not completely unrealistic to see me pedaling away at that lifecycle like my life depended on it while having an ice cold Corona to keep me hydrated!

Wayne

March 26th, 2010
12:02 pm

What @lead balloon said… They were something like 60% bigger. I heard it on the radio, so I may have the percentage wrong, but they were definitely larger.

Romaning Gnome

March 26th, 2010
12:08 pm

Have you seen the Jammie Oliver show that is trying to help Huntington WV?? Now that is sad

Wayne

March 26th, 2010
12:10 pm

@Tiger: while watching racy movies? Gotta have the DVD/VCR down there too.

Not that I know anything about that…

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
12:13 pm

@Wayne…I actually don’t have a DVD set up to that TV! But I will admit that Girls Gone Wild Informercials are always playing that time of the morning that I may have watched during Sportcenter commercial breaks!!!

TechMom

March 26th, 2010
12:19 pm

@JJ, I used to take one or both of our dogs with me when my son was practicing when he was younger but our county now does not allow dogs, even on leashes, at parks when athletic events or practices are going on (which is pretty much every park in county). It’s kind of frustrating that a few idiots have ruined it for the rest of us but that’s another soapbox…

@Tiger- one of my excuses for exercising is so that I can drink without feeling guilty. I can totally appreciate you cycling with a beer in hand! My husband home-brews; I think I’m going to get him an exerise bike for the basement. If he puts it close enough to the Kegerator, he probably wouldn’t even have to stop for a refill.

MEG

March 26th, 2010
12:20 pm

I saw myself in the study results about lifestyle and breast cancer.
I am a two year BC survivor and, while I don’t believe that my weight and sedentary lifestyle CAUSED my breast cancer I am sure that they are the reason that it became life threatening..it was an ER +, low grade that should have sat quietly, slow growing for years… and didn’t
I was 60 lbs overweight, former smoker, non exerciser..and my OB and PC docs were too polite to tell me flat out I was too fat and needed exercise.
So: women need make a choice: worry about getting their feelings hurt about their weight or do something to save their own lives…sit in front of the TV or take the dog for a walk. It can be done: I am 56 now, and down to normal weight, do an hour walk every day. You can’t control all your cancer risks any more than I can change the stage my bc was in when we found it. But I can do this now. And so can you.

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

March 26th, 2010
12:24 pm

@Techmom….I would be so much more of a lush than I am now if I had a kegerator. My wife and I have talked about it, but with my son growing up, I’m hoping to remove as much temptation to him as I can, seeing how having to put a lock on the liquor cabinet has been a fine tradition passed down for countless generations in my family!

OC Rider

March 26th, 2010
12:37 pm

@lead balloon – it’s not a walk, but April 24th is the Ride to Change the Future which supports research to find an early detection test for ovarian cancer. This is our seventh year in Atlanta, Birmingham just held their third ride, and Talahassee, Boulder, and Steamboat Springs are having their first rides this year. We’re getting close to finding a reliable test – then we can move on to working on the cure! Find out more at http://www.ovariancycle.org

David S

March 26th, 2010
12:37 pm

Cancer is not something outside ourselves. It is our own tissues going bad. What we put into ourselves and what we are exposed to is all that there is. Of course we cause our own cancers.

The cancer treatment industry wants you to believe that there is no way to prevent cancer. They make their money on our disease, not on prevention. If there were money to be made by these folks in the prevention of cancer, the solutions would already be documented (yes, of course they are trying to pass off ineffective vaccines and the like).

Just look at the slogan for colon cancer – “the best prevention is early detection.” No it isn’t. The best prevention is prevention. The money is made in the early detection, misdiagnosis, and the supposed cures.

Health is a state in which disease does not happen. There is no mystery as to why cancer rates are through the roof. Just look at the western lifestyle.

Hey ...

March 26th, 2010
12:37 pm

Enter your comments here

Hey, @WOW...

March 26th, 2010
12:38 pm

…who was “gripping”(sic) – I was just making an observation about how this blog takes on a life of its own…

JJ

March 26th, 2010
12:40 pm

I also like to listen to my iPod while on the treadmill at the Gym, and while walking my dogs…..