Breast cancer has become the leading type of cancer in women. In India, the breast cancer rate stands at 28.5 per 1,00,000 women, while the mortality rate of the same is 12.5 per 1,00,000 women. Shockingly, the projected rate in 2020 for breast cancer is 17,97,900 cases. Unlike cancers related to lifestyle factors (such as lung cancer), breast cancer does not have a long list of prevention tips attached to it. However, recent studies have begun to establish a link between dairy products and breast cancer that suggests the two may be correlated. Let us explore the same to see how much dairy consumption is safe for women, and whether this link has any merit to it.
The Basics of Breast Cancer:
Before understanding the dairy products and breast cancer link, let us go over the basics of breast cancer for a better understanding of the same. Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the lobules or ducts in the breasts. It can also occur in the fatty tissue or the connective tissues within the breasts.
Often, the symptoms of breast cancer vary depending on which part of the breast the cancer begins in. However, the following are the most common symptoms to watch out for:
- A lump in the breast (or a hardened mass) that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue
- Nipple discharge
- Pain in the breast
- Red, pitted skin
- Bloody discharge
- Inverted nipple
- A lump forming under the arm
- Changes in the appearance of the breast
- Sudden change in the size of the breasts
If you notice any of these changes, you should get in touch with a doctor immediately.
Furthermore, as is the case with any disease, certain people are more at-risk than others. Understanding them can help you take measures to prevent breast cancer, or at least schedule regular screenings for the same.
Risk Factors of Breast Cancer:
Some of the main risk factors for developing breast cancer include the following:
- Age: More often than not, this cancer occurs in women who are over 55 years of age. However, it can also occur in young women too.
- Genes: women with BRCA2 and BRCA1 gene mutations are more likely to develop this disease.
- Early menstruation: Women who started their periods before turning 12 are at a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Late births: Having your first child after the age of 35 can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
- Never being pregnant: Women who have never had a child are at a greater risk for developing breast cancer.
- Family history: Having a family history of breast cancer increases of risk of developing the same.
- Late menopause: Starting menopause at or after 55 years of age can also increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol: Excessive drinking can put women at risk too.
Though there are many studies that explore the dairy products and breast cancer link, a majority of them seem inconsistent due to the variance in the types of dairy products used in the studies, as well as the different age groups of women. It is safe to say that the overall risk of breast cancer can be affected in a positive and negative way, based on the dairy products that were used in the studies.
According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), it is believed that the anti-carcinogenic properties of certain elements in dairy products like calcium, Vitamin D, linoleic acid, lactoferrin, and butyrate helps to decrease the overall risk of breast cancer. Conversely, other studies (also published in the NCBI), indicate that high intake of dairy products leads to higher amounts of saturated fat in the body. This ultimately increases the risk of breast cancer.
While the studies on the intake of dairy products and risk of breast cancer have provided results that are largely ambiguous, we do know that dairy products for breast cancer patients are an absolute no-no. There is a correlation between dairy products and breast cancer due to the hormone oestrogen. This has been documented extensively in a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
According to this study, oestrogen stimulates cell growth in the breasts. This effect of oestrogen applies to cancer cells in the breast too. As most milk comes from pregnant cows, it is believed that it contains high levels of this hormone, which ultimately increases the mortality rates amongst women suffering from breast cancer. This is especially true for full-fat dairy products. Although these studies suggest that the risk of increased mortality is not eminent with low-fat dairy products, it is more prudent to stay away from full-fat dairy products.
What Should You Do?
As dairy products and breast cancer risk are not linked, you do not need to cut them from your diet. However, obesity is certainly a factor that puts you at risk for developing breast cancer. With that in mind, you should consider cutting a few high-fat dairy products from your diet. Switching to low-fat ones can reduce your risk for both, obesity and breast cancer quite substantially.
Now that you’ve read this dairy products and breast cancer review, you’re probably wondering what you can do to lower your risk of breast cancer. As stated earlier, breast cancer is not impacted by lifestyle the way other cancers are. However:
- reducing the amount of alcohol you drink
- quitting smoking
- eating health foods
- ensuring that you exercise can help you keep your body fit
- controlling your weight
can lower your risk of breast cancer to a great extent.
You can also schedule regular breast cancer screenings. Early detection is always a big win in the fight against cancer.
While there is no verified strong link between dairy products and breast cancer, it is best to avoid dairy products after breast cancer, as you will always be at a risk of the cancer returning. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, then you must structure your diet in a way that does not include any full-fat dairy products. This will help your body reduce the risk of mortality and prevent the cancer from spreading.