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Breast health 2021

Why living a healthy lifestyle is important for your breast health

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Barbara Klein

Communications Officer, EUROPA DONNA – The European Breast Cancer Coalition

It is important that women of all ages are aware that lifestyle factors play an important role in the prevention and recurrence of breast cancer.


In 2020, breast cancer surpassed lung cancer as the most diagnosed cancer worldwide and accounts for one in four cancer cases in the world1. Studies from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have shown that a third of all breast cancer cases in Europe can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Looking at the available statistics, this means that each year 192,000 of the 576,300 new cases of breast cancer in the WHO European region could be prevented by choosing a healthy lifestyle1.

For many years, no one talked about prevention of cancer apart from attending screening programmes.

Studies on cancer prevention 

For many years, no one talked about prevention of cancer apart from attending screening programmes. Now, a growing body of evidence shows the link between healthy choices and a lower risk of developing breast cancer.1

According to these studies, excess body weight and physical inactivity account for 25-33% of all breast cancer cases2. In postmenopausal women, being overweight/obese is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer so limiting weight gain in adult life and maintaining a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9 is ideal.

Alcohol intake has also proven to be a risk factor. In 2020, it was estimated that 13% of breast cancer cases globally and 21% in the WHO Region Europe could be attributed to alcohol consumption3. Europe has the highest levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol-caused deaths in the world. There is no proven safe level of alcohol consumption, and this is why it is important to raise awareness and spread the message about the importance of limiting alcohol intake.

Breast Health Day 

EUROPA DONNA – The European Breast Cancer Coalition established Breast Health Day on 15 October in 2008. It now runs a yearly campaign to inform women of all ages that lifestyle factors play an important role in the prevention and recurrence of breast cancer and that early detection of breast cancer through screening is crucial. Currently, EUROPA DONNA and its member countries are working with the European Commission towards the implementation of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan that was launched last year on World Cancer Day. The Plan has four key action areas: prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment and quality of life of cancer patients and survivors that will be supported by 10 flagship initiatives and multiple supporting actions. 


1. Ferlay J, Ervik M, Lam F, Colombet M, Mery L, Piñeros M, Znaor A, Soerjomataram I, Bray F (2020). Global Cancer Observatory: Cancer Today. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer. Available http://gco.iarc.fr/today [accessed on 29 July 2021]
2. (IARC (2002). IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Volume 6, Weight control and physical activity. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer.
3.Rumgay H, Lam F, Ervik M, Soerjomataram I (2021). Cancers attributable to alcohol. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer. Available from: https://gco.iarc.fr/causes/alcohol, accessed [29 July 2021]

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