Nutrition and Breast Cancer: Lifestyle Choices to Reduce Your Risk

Lauren Fay, RD, CSO, LD, CNSC is a registered dietitian and certified oncology nutrition specialist at Life With Cancer, a program of Inova Schar Cancer Institute that enhances the quality of life for those with cancer by providing education, information and support free of charge.


Research shows a definitive link between cancer risk and what’s on your plate. Whether you’re hoping to sidestep breast cancer or prevent a recurrence, loading up on cancer-fighting nutrients — and avoiding problem foods — can up your odds of success.

Unfortunately, breast cancer patients and survivors are often bombarded with nutrition advice, which may or may not be grounded in science. This can create a lot of confusion and stress. The good news is, it doesn’t have to.

Lifestyle Choices to Reduce your Risk of Breast Cancer
Here are five strategies to maximize your odds of staying breast cancer-free:

Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese increases both the risk of developing breast cancer, and the potential for recurrence. Gaining weight during or after breast cancer treatment also increases the chance of recurrence and developing other primary cancers. Aim to keep your body mass index within 18.5 and 25.

Eat a plant-based diet
At least two-thirds of every meal should consist of minimally processed fruits, vegetables and whole-grain carbohydrates. Not only do these foods boast plenty of cancer-fighting phytochemicals, they’re also loaded with fiber, which helps you feel full with fewer calories (to promote a healthy body weight). Studies suggest eating this way slashes the risk of developing breast cancer by 15 percent.

Try soy
There is often confusion about the safety of eating soy due to its high phytoestrogen content. However, research shows that soy is safe to eat, and that incorporating whole soy foods — such as edamame, tempeh and tofu — may actually help prevent development of breast cancer and recurrence. It is unclear if consuming soy powders, pills and supplements provide the same benefit, and there is concern they could potentially increase risk, so stick to whole soy foods.

Dry out
Unfortunately, the latest research suggests that any amount of alcohol consumption can up your odds of developing breast cancer. In fact, studies show that compared to women who don’t drink, those who down three alcoholic beverages each week increase their odds of developing breast cancer by 15 percent.

Get moving
Physical activity helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Research also shows that women who exercise for at least 4 hours each week have a lower risk of breast cancer of all types.

Striking a Balance
Trendy nutrition advice can put your health at risk. The team at Inova Schar Cancer Institute can connect you with a registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition. That way, you’ll have solid scientific evidence to support what you put on your plate.


Inova Life with Cancer provides free nutrition, exercise and wellness classes as well as counseling and support groups, to anyone touched by cancer, whether or not they are a patient at Inova. Discover how Inova tackles breast cancer. Inova is the official Breast Cancer Awareness partner of the Washington Redskins.

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1 Comment

  1. Sharon on May 6, 2021 at 10:31 am

    I am 7 years post breast cancer diagnosis and have remained healthy. I’ve struggled with weight gain during perimenopause and menopause. I have focused on weight loss at different times and have lost and kept weight off for a couple of years, but my weight has crept up again through covid lockdown. I would like to work with a nutritionist who can focus on the nutritional needs of a woman with my history and work on losing the extra weight I have (about 20-25 lbs).

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