Having a family history of breast cancer can lead some women to wonder if the risk is out of their control. However, a study of more than 85,000 postmenopausal women, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Breast Cancer Research, observed that regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and drinking less alcohol lowers breast cancer risk for those with and without a family history of the disease.
The University of Rochester Medical Center study is good news for women who have a close relative with breast cancer and fear that no matter what they do, it won't matter, said lead author Robert E. Gramling, M.D., D.Sc., associate professor of Family Medicine, and Community and Preventive Medicine at URMC.
"It's important to note that a family history of breast cancer can arise in part due to shared unhealthy behaviors that have been passed down for generations," Gramling said. "Untangling the degree to which genes, environments, and behaviors contribute to the disease is difficult. But our study shows that engaging in a healthy lifestyle can help women, even when familial predisposition is involved."
Gramling analyzed data from the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study that began in 1993. The data included women ages 50 to 79 who were divided into two groups; those who had a family history of later-onset breast cancer (after age 45) and those who did not. The amount of risk reduced by adhering to the three health behaviors was the same for women with and without a family history.
"Given the strong awareness of breast cancer and distress about inheritable risk", Gramling said, "it is essential that scientists understand the actions women can take to reduce their risk".