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Breast Cancer Health Center

How Much Does Lifestyle Affect Breast Cancer Risk?

Study Suggests Weight, Drinking Habits, and Physical Activity Account for Small Portion of Overall Risk
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Perspective on Cancer Risk

Experts praised the paper for adding some needed perspective to breast cancer risk prediction.

"Counseling for personal risk of breast cancer is really difficult, and I think this was a really, really well done paper," says Jennifer Litton, MD, assistant professor and a breast medical oncologist at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Litton cautions that the study was conducted in Italian women, who have slightly different risks and rates of breast cancer compared to Americans. "It's in a different population, and different populations and cultures have different risk factors and chances of developing cancer, so as far as how transferable it is to the United States will need to be seen," she says.

"I think this may provide us a very interesting tool, another aid when we're counseling patients, because there's so much we don't have control over," Litton says, "For the things we can change, I think it's helpful to understand."

Other experts, and the study researchers, point out that beyond individual risk, these kinds of models can also show the impact that relatively small personal changes can make to larger populations.

For example, the study found that in a population of 1 million women, a 1.6% reduction in absolute risk would translate to 16,000 fewer cancer cases.

"These kinds of models are more important at the population level than at the personal level," says Mary B. Daly, MD, PhD, chair of the department of clinical genetics at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

"I've been taking care of women with breast cancer for 25 years, most of them don't have any of these risk factors," she says. "There's obviously a lot more going on. Those risk factors that we know about only tell part of the picture."

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