Breast cancer is the leading cancer for women, and lifestyle definitely plays a part, according to Dr. Marc Lippman, chair of the University of Miami's Department of Medicine.
"Make no mistake about it, we know the answer," he said. "The problem is the answer isn't socially acceptable."
The breast cancer rate would be one-tenth its current rate if we lived the way people in Asia did 50 years ago, Lippman told a crowd of more than 100 filling Sun Valley Inn's Continental Room on Thursday. He led a 20-person panel, consisting of the world's leading breast cancer specialists, at the 15th annual Laura Evans Memorial Breast Cancer Symposium.
"The only question is how to get there without being 5 feet tall and having babies at 17," he said.
Lippman said one of the leading factors contributing to breast cancer is that women are bigger, unlike Asians of 50 years ago who were short and thin because they didn't eat as much. They also had babies in their teens.
Another panelist, Dr. Clifford Hudis, has focused his research on the causes and prevention of breast cancer. He said the average American's weight has increased by one pound a year for the past 20 years.
"If you tell a patient to lose weight because it will decrease their likelihood of breast cancer, they just shrug their shoulders," he said.
He said patients already know that being overweight is unhealthy, and they're unlikely to change their behavior because you give them another reason.
"We're not just heavier, but bigger, taller," he said.
Lippman said that also increases the likeliness of breast cancer because it causes women to start menstruating at an earlier age, a well-known factor. He said an average American girl's first period is now at age 10 and a half, coming earlier because it depends on a woman's size, not age. Plus, women are having children later, which is another breast cancer contributor, he said.
He said habitual consumption of alcohol is also a known contributor to breast cancer.
"You can't escape the connection," he said, but it's a choice you have to make. Is drinking worth the risk? "If you don't want to break a bone, don't ski."
Lifestyle isn't, however, always to blame.
Dr. Joyce O'Shaughnessy, co-chair of breast cancer research at the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, told the story of two women who were diagnosed at age 32 and 33, unusually young for breast cancer. She said it was determined that they're genetically disposed to having breast cancer even though neither had any family history.
That raised the question of why women aren't advised to have mammograms, checking for breast cancer, earlier than age 40. The answer, she said, is that it's not worth the cost of a mammogram earlier than that because tumors are difficult to spot in young breasts, which are mostly glandular. However, breasts become more fatty as women age, making it likely to spot tumors at about age 40. Doctors will use MRIs as an alternative for young women if they're deemed genetically prone to breast cancer.
Trevon Milliard: firstname.lastname@example.org