Acommon misconception about breast cancer is that heredity plays a major role in whether women will develop the disease. Yet only about 5% of women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. The vast majority of cases—75% or more— are attributed to diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Exactly what percentage each of these factors plays in breast cancer is not known for certain, but researchers have determined their significance for cancer in general. According to the Harvard Report on Cancer Prevention,77% of all cancers are related to lifestyle, including diet, obesity, stress, amount of exercise, tobacco and alcohol use, occupational risks, and food contamination.
Genetic and related risk factors are believed to be responsible for 14%. That leaves 9% to be attributed to environmental causes, such as air, water, and soil pollution, household and industrial chemicals, radiation, and perhaps even electromagnetic fields. In this post you’ll learn about the impact that diet, lifestyle, and environment may have on your breast health.
That’s a lot to cover in one post, so we’ve narrowed it down to potential and proven carcinogens such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar, food additives, fats, pesticides and other environmental pollutants, radiation, electromagnetic fields, and the risks that specific occupations may carry for breast cancer.
One thing becomes clear: regardless of which possible carcinogen is discussed, scientists do not agree on the role it plays in breast cancer. Controversy and debate abound, which is good, because it fuels more research that will hopefully answer more questions about breast health.
Impact of Food- and Drug-Related Substances on Breast Health
How many cups of coffee or cans of cola do you drink each day? Do you have more than one alcoholic drink a day? Do you smoke? Is your idea of breakfast a donut and coffee? Does the majority of the food you eat come from a box, can, jar, or the fast food drive-up window?
No one is saying you will get breast cancer if you infrequently do any of these things. Rather, if they are habits, experts believe you are at increased risk for breast cancer.
But the news is not all bad. In fact, the goal of this post series is not to simply tell you what to avoid but to explain how and why certain everyday items can be harmful to breast health, to discuss the extent to which they are believed to be harmful, and then to suggest healthy alternatives.
Caffeine is safe. Caffeine is bad. Caffeine consumption leads to breast lumps, cysts, tenderness, and pain. Caffeine is nothing to worry about.
You’ve probably heard these comments and more about caffeine and breast health. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Researchers themselves are uncertain about the exact connection between caffeine and breast changes. But research and anecdotal reports combined point to a definite relationship. Most of the research has focused on coffee, but if you drink caffeinated tea or colas, the risk is the same.
Caffeine and Breast Lumps
An association between caffeine and breast health was first recognized in 1979. Dr. John Minton of Ohio State University Hospital reported that breast lumps, tenderness, and pain had disappeared in 65% of his patients not long after they had eliminated all caffeine products from their diet. That number rose to 83% two years later when he did a follow-up study.
PRODUCTS CONTAINING CAFFEINE
Beverages Coffee, tea, cola, Dr. Pepper, Mello Yello, Mountain Dew, Mr. Pibb, Tab
Foods Cocoa, chocolate
OTC Drugs Anacin, NoDoz, Excedrin
Prescription Drugs Cafergot, Darvon, Fiorinal, Synalgos-DC, Wigraine
Since the 1980s, little research has focused on the impact of caffeine on breast health. Yet many physicians advise their patients to avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine, because their patients tell them that when they do, they get relief from breast pain, tenderness, and lumps.
Caffeine and Breast Cancer
No definitive link between caffeine consumption and breast cancer has been found, although caffeine does stimulate breast cancer growth in some mice species. Caffeine belongs to a class of chemicals called methylxanthines, which have been linked to cancer in laboratory animals. But in human studies of more than 45,000 women, no connection between caffeine intake and breast cancer has been found.
The Bottom Line
Caffeine apparently has a detrimental effect on breast health, especially the pain and discomfort associated with breast tenderness and lumps. In addition, caffeine inhibits the absorption of many nutrients and causes excessive loss of calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, and trace minerals in the urine. This is particularly important for women, because loss of these essential minerals increases the chance of getting osteoporosis. Caffeine also raises the body’s level of homocysteine, a compound which, at high levels, can cause heart attack, osteoporosis, and stroke. If you want to reduce or eliminate your intake of caffeine, refer to the recommendations in this post, Tips for Transitioning to a Healthy Diet.