breast cancer

 This is a thought-provoking study that looked at environmental quality and cancer incidence in counties throughout the US. The researchers found that the more polluted the county, the higher the cancer incidence. An increase in cancer rates was associated with poorer air quality and the "built environment" (such as major highways). They correctly point out that many things together can contribute to cancer occurring - and this is why looking at how polluted the air, water, etc. together is important.

They looked at the most common causes of cancer death in both men (lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer), and women (lung, breast, and colorectal cancer). They found that prostate and breast cancer demonstrated the strongest associations with poor environmental quality. [Original study.]

The researchers point out that about half of cancers are thought to have a genetic component, but therefore the other half have environmental causes. Other studies already find that environmental exposures (e.g., pesticides, diesel exhaust) are linked to various cancers. But this study was an attempt to look at interactions of various things in the environment with rates of cancer - because we all are exposed to a number of things simultaneously wherever we live, not just to exposures to one thing. Thus this study looked at associations in rates of cancer. 

Of course there is also a lifestyle contribution to many cancers that wasn't looked at here (nutrition, alcohol use, exercise). They also pointed out that many counties in the US are large and encompass both very polluted and non-polluted areas - and that those counties should be broken up into smaller geographic areas when studied. [More air pollution studies.] From Science Daily:

Poor overall environmental quality linked to elevated cancer rates

Nationwide, counties with the poorest quality across five domains -- air, water, land, the built environment and sociodemographic -- had the highest incidence of cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer. Poor air quality and factors of the built environment -- such as the presence of major highways and the availability of public transit and housing -- -- were the most strongly associated with high cancer rates, while water quality and land pollution had no measurable effect.

Previous research has shown that genetics can be blamed for only about half of all cancers, suggesting that exposure to environmental toxins or socioeconomic factors may also play a role. "Most research has focused on single environmental factors like air pollution or toxins in water," said Jyotsna Jagai, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and lead author of the study. "But these single factors don't paint a comprehensive picture of what a person is exposed to in their environment -- and may not be as helpful in predicting cancer risk, which is impacted by multiple factors including the air you breathe, the water you drink, the neighborhood you live in, and your exposure to myriad toxins, chemicals and pollutants."

To investigate the effects of overall environmental quality, the researchers looked at hundreds of variables, including air and water pollution, pesticide and radon levels, neighborhood safety, access to health services and healthy food, presence of heavily-trafficked highways and roads, and sociodemographic factors, such as poverty. Jagai and her colleagues used the U.S. EPA's Environmental Quality Index, a county-level measure incorporating more than 200 of these environmental variables and obtained cancer incidence rates from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program State Cancer Profiles. Cancer data were available for 85 percent of the 3,142 U.S. counties.

The average age-adjusted rate for all types of cancer was 451 cases per 100,000 people. Counties with poor environmental quality had higher incidence of cancer -- on average, 39 more cases per 100,000 people -- than counties with high environmental quality. Increased rates were seen for both males and females, and prostate and breast cancer demonstrated the strongest association with poor environmental quality.

The researchers found that high levels of air pollution, poor quality in the built environment and high levels of sociodemographic risk factors were most strongly associated with increased cancer rates in men and women. The strongest associations were seen in urban areas, especially for the air and built environment domains. Breast and prostate cancer were most strongly associated with poor air quality.

  Does vitamin D prevent cancer? There has been much debate over whether increasing levels of vitamin D (as measured in a person's blood) results in a lower incidence of cancer. Studies find a number of health problems linked to low levels of vitamin D (here, here, here), while studies looking at vitamin D and cancer have been "inconsistent" in their results. Some say yes - vitamin D is protective, while some say there is no effect from vitamin D supplements. Now a 4 year study (yes, yes - it's a very short length of time in which to study the onset of cancer) found no difference in the rate of cancer among two groups of postmenopausal women who received either: 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D3 and 1,500 mg per day of calcium OR an identical looking placebo. They looked for any kind of cancer occurring.

The Creighton University researchers found a difference among the women after 4 years, with the vitamin D plus calcium supplement group having fewer cancers (and a lower percentage of cancer) as compared to the placebo group, but...it did not reach statistical significance. So you could say it was due to chance. But when the researchers looked at the number of cancers from year 2 to 4, then the difference was statistically significant - that vitamin D was protective. The researchers wonder if the cancers diagnosed in year 1 were already developing before the study started. Note: The 2,000 IU per day vitamin D3 supplements in this study are considered high doses - "high dose supplementation".

The researchers point out that the women who were given vitamin D3 and calcium supplements had a 30% lower risk of cancer, even though this difference in cancer incidence rates between the 2 groups did not quite reach statistical significance. But both groups started with a fairly high vitamin D level -  an average 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) levels of 32.8 ng/m (which is above the average US population level). And in the supplement group it was raised to 43.9 ng/mL. Note that some researchers view vitamin D levels of 33 ng/mL  (the baseline level in both groups) as already protective against cancer.

Also, even during the study the placebo group was allowed to take their own vitamin D and calcium supplements as long as it wasn't more than the recommended amounts (800 IU per day for vitamin D and 1500 mg per day for calcium) - which makes those individuals actually a low vitamin D supplementation group rather than no supplementation, which might hide any treatment effects and so make the results for the 2 groups look similar. What is needed is a much longer follow-up, larger groups of women, and both high and low dose vitamin D supplement groups. Some studies suggest that whether a low or high dose taken has an effect on cancer incidence.

I still think this study period was way too short - to me, 5 or more years would have been more convincing, and the groups too small. Also, it was unfortunate that they were also given calcium supplements or that there wasn't a just vitamin D group. Combining vitamin D with calcium supplements just muddies the results (in my opinion), and also because calcium supplements are linked to health problems such as cardiovascular disease. So in this study can't tell what the separate effects of calcium and vitamin D are. (Note that calcium rich foods, however, are beneficial to health.)

But a big positive of the study was that the women were randomly assigned to either the vitamin D plus calcium group or the placebo group, and no one - not the women or their doctors knew who got what until the end of the study (to eliminate bias it was "double-blind"). Note The supplements used were vitamin D3 and not D2. Vitamin D can also be easily obtained by exposure to sunlight in the summer months.

Excerpts from Creighton University release about the study in Science Daily: Does Vitamin D decrease risk of cancer?

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is a randomized clinical trial of the effects of vitamin D supplementation on all types of cancer combined. The four-year study included 2,303 healthy postmenopausal women 55 years and older from 31 counties in Nebraska. Participants were randomly assigned to take either 2000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 and 1500 mg. of calcium or identical placebos daily for 4 years. The vitamin D3 dose was about three times the US government's Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 600 IU for adults through age 70, and 800 IU for those 71 and older. Women who were given vitamin D3 and calcium supplements had 30% lower risk of cancer. This difference in cancer incidence rates between groups did not quite reach statistical significance. However, in further analyses, blood levels of vitamin D, specifically 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), were significantly lower in women who developed cancer during the study than in those who remained healthy.

Mediterranean Diet is Healthy Eating – A Good Option for Seniors Once again the Mediterranean diet is linked to health benefits - this time a 40% lower incidence of certain types of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Following a Mediterranean style diet has been linked in earlier studies to various health benefits, such as lower rates of heart disease, lower rates of early death, and certain cancers.

A strength of this study is that so many (62,573) Dutch postmenopausal women were followed for a long time (about 20 years). Their diet was analyzed, especially how closely it matched the Mediterranean diet or not. Since alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer, and dose-related - it was not included as part of the Mediterranean diet in this study. The study found that following a Mediterranean diet with higher consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, appeared to be protective against certain breast cancers - it was associated with a reduced risk of estrogen receptor–negative (ER-) breast cancers. Unfortunately the researchers did not look at olive oil use in this study, because when it started in 1986, it was not typically used in the Netherlands. However, another good study found extra virgin olive oil to be a protective part (against breast cancer) of the Mediterranean diet. From Medscape:

Mediterranean Diet Cuts Some Breast Cancer Risk by 40%

Closely following a Mediterranean diet in everyday life may significantly reduce the risk for types of breast cancer that are associated with poorer prognoses in postmenopausal women, new research indicates. The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of plant proteins, whole grains, fish, and monounsaturated fat, as well as moderate alcohol intake and low intake of refined grains, red meat, and sweets, say the study authors, led by Piet A. van den Brandt, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The new findings come from 62,573 Dutch women aged 55 to 69 years who provided information on dietary and lifestyle habits in 1986 and have since been followed for more than 20 years....The investigators found that women who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had a 40% reduced risk for estrogen receptor–negative (ER-) breast cancer compared to women who adhered to the diet the least. They found a 39% reduced risk for progesterone receptor–negative (PR-)/ER- disease when comparing these same high- and low-adherence groups. Notably, in these results, the definition of the diet excluded alcohol intake, because the consumption of alcohol is a known risk factor for breast cancer....The authors also report that there were no significant associations with the diet and the risk of ER+ disease or total breast cancer.

Dr van den Brandt also explained that older women, who were the subjects of the new study, are more likely to derive benefit than younger women. "Generally speaking, postmenopausal breast cancer seems somewhat more influenced by environmental factors, such as lifestyle and diet, than premenopausal breast cancer, where genetic factors seem to play a more prominent role," he told Medscape Medical News.

Dr Toledo was the senior author of the only large, randomized trial to date in which postmenopausal women were assigned to a dietary intervention to promote their adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet (JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175:1752–60). The study found that women with a higher adherence to the diet (supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil) showed a substantial reduction of their risk for breast cancer compared to a control group, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

 Another large study looking at screening mammograms for breast cancer has raised the issue of overdiagnosis and overtreatment once again. The purpose of mammography screening is to find cancer when it is small and so prevent cancer from growing and becoming advanced cancer. However, the researchers did not find this - there was a major increase in finding small cancers (the kind that may grow so slowly as to never cause any problems or that may even regress), but the rate of advanced cancers stayed the same.

The problem of overdiagnosis (finding small tumors that may never cause problems) and overtreatment (treating unnecessarily), which is leading to medical experts "rethinking cancer screening" is a major shift in how cancer screening is being viewed for a number of cancers. This is because studies show that overall death rates are basically the same in screened vs non-screened persons for mammography, colon, prostate, and lung cancer screening (see post). The view of how cancer grows and spreads may have to be reexamined and changed. One possibility suggested by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch is that aggressive cancer is already "a systemic disease by the time it's detectable" (Oct. 28, 2015 post).

The following excerpts are from the thoughtful review of the study in Health News Review: Overdiagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ: ‘the pathology equivalent of racial profiling’

Danish researchers are providing new evidence that many breast cancers found via screening mammograms don’t need to be treated. Women with these non-threatening tumors are said to be “overdiagnosed” with breast cancerOverdiagnosis occurs when breast screening such as mammography detects small, slow-growing cancers that may never cause the patient any trouble. Yet, women diagnosed with such tumors are exposed to very real harms–possible surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and living life as a “cancer patient.”

How much overdiagnosis are we talking about? If you don’t include cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in the tallies, anywhere from 14.7% to 38.6% of breast cancers found via screening represent overdiagnosis, the study authors found. The rate ranges from 24.4% to as high as 48.3% when DCIS is included.

DCIS is a collection of abnormal cells inside a milk duct that may–but usually doesn’t–break out to become invasive and potentially lethal cancer. About 60,000 women are told they have DCIS each year in the United States. Some experts estimate that up to 80% of women with DCIS found via screening may not need any treatment at all–and instead should just keep an eye on things. Obviously, women need to be fully and accurately informed about the benefits and risks — including the risk of overdiagnosis — before embarking on any decision to get screened for breast cancer or choosing a course of action following a diagnosis.

Otis Brawley, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, says it’s been difficult for modern medicine to wrap its brain around the concept of overdiagnosis. The natural inclination is to assume that cancerous-looking cells “will grow, spread, and eventually kill,” he writes in an editorial accompanying the Danish study. “However, some of these lesions may be genomically predetermined to grow no further and may even regress. In many respects, considering all small breast lesions to be deadly and aggressive types of cancer is the pathologic equivalent of racial profiling.

Excerpts from the original study from the Annals of Internal Medicine: Breast Cancer Screening in Denmark: A Cohort Study of Tumor Size and Overdiagnosis

Background: Effective breast cancer screening should detect early-stage cancer and prevent advanced disease. Objective: To assess the association between screening and the size of detected tumors and to estimate overdiagnosis (detection of tumors that would not become clinically relevant).... Setting: Denmark from 1980 to 2010. Participants: Women aged 35 to 84 years. Intervention: Screening programs offering biennial mammography for women aged 50 to 69 years beginning in different regions at different times.

Conclusion: Breast cancer screening was not associated with a reduction in the incidence of advanced cancer. It is likely that 1 in every 3 invasive tumors and cases of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) diagnosed in women offered screening represent overdiagnosis (incidence increase of 48.3%).

Breast screening is associated with a substantial increase in the incidence of nonadvanced tumors and DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in Denmark but not with a reduction in the incidence of advanced tumors, and the overdiagnosis rate is substantial. These findings support that screening has not accomplished the promise of a reduction in invasive therapy or disease-specific mortality.

 Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in a variety of cancers (herehere, and here). Now a study found that vitamin D levels are linked to the long-term outcome in women with breast cancer. Researchers found that after 7 years, women with the highest levels of vitamin D had about a 30 percent better likelihood of survival from breast cancer than women with the lowest levels of vitamin D, The study put women into one of three groups based on their levels of vitamin D (as measured in the blood 2 months after the initial breast cancer diagnosis): deficient - levels below 20.0 ng/mL; insufficient - 20.0 to 29.9 ng/mL; and sufficient - greater than or equal to 30.0 ng/mL. They found that almost half of the women were vitamin D deficient, and another third were insufficient.

The researchers said the findings "provide compelling observational evidence for inverse associations between vitamin D levels and risk of breast cancer progression and death". In other words, the higher the vitamin D levels, the better the outcome. NOTE: Good vitamin D levels can usually be obtained with one 1000 IU supplement of vitamin D3 per day. Or expose bare skin to sunlight - after all, it is called the "sunshine vitamin". From Medical Xpress:

Higher vitamin D levels associated with better outcomes in breast cancer survivors

Women with higher vitamin D levels in their blood following a breast cancer diagnosis had significantly better long-term outcomes, according to new research from Kaiser Permanente and Roswell Park Cancer Institute....Vitamin D is a nutrient best known for its role in maintaining healthy bones; conversely, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with the risk for several cancers.

Common sources of vitamin D include sun exposure, fatty fish oils, vitamin supplements, and fortified milks and cereals. While the mechanisms for how vitamin D influences breast cancer outcomes are not well understood, researchers believe it may be related to its role in promoting normal mammary-cell development, and inhibiting the reproduction of and promoting the death of cancer cells.

"We found that women with the highest levels of vitamin D levels had about a 30 percent better likelihood of survival than women with the lowest levels of vitamin D," said Lawrence H. Kushi, ScD....principal investigator of Kaiser Permanente's Pathways study of breast cancer survivorship. The current study included 1,666 Pathways study members who provided samples between 2006 and 2013....had a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer in 2006. Participants provided blood samples within two months of diagnosis and answered questions about diet, lifestyle and other risk factors, with follow-ups at six months and at two, four, six and eight years.

"With the extremely rich data sources from a large sample size, we were able to prospectively analyze three major breast cancer outcomes—recurrence, second primary cancer and death," said Song Yao, PhD, associate professor of oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the study's lead author....In addition to lower overall mortality among all breast cancer survivors studied, the researchers found even stronger associations among premenopausal women in the highest third of vitamin D levels for breast-cancer-specific (63 percent better), recurrence-free (48 percent better) and invasive-disease-free survival (42 percent better), during a median follow up of seven years. [Original study]

  More bad news about BPA (bisphenol A) - an endocrine disrupter linked to a number of health problems, including reproductive disorders (here, here, and here). A new study has lent support for a  link between bisphenol A (BPA) exposure during pregnancy and later breast cancer. BPA can cross the placenta in the womb, and so expose the fetus, it has been found in placental tissue, and newborns can be exposed through breastfeeding. BPA is found in the urine of about 95% of the U.S. population.

It's hard to avoid BPA because it's found in so many products, but a person can lower exposure to it by avoiding canned products (it's in the can linings), as well as plastic bottles and containers, microwaving or heating food in plastic containers, and fast food (it's in the packaging and leaches into the food) . Glass and stainless steel is OK for storing food. By the way, BPA substitutes such as BPS  and BPSIP have the same negative health effects (because they're chemically similar) - so also avoid "BPA-free" products. From Endocrine News;

A Pervasive Threat: The Danger of in utero BPA Exposure

A new study presented at ENDO [Endocrine Society] 2016 revealed a possible link between bisphenol A exposure in utero to breast cancer later in life. In the process, the researchers created a new bioassay that can test chemicals much faster than typical animal studies. Almost every single person alive today has detectable amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in his or her body, according to the 2015 joint Endocrine Society/IPEN publication Introduction to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs): A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policy-Makers.

These EDCs — phthalates (plasticizers), bisphenol A (BPA), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and others, in their bodies — are hormone-like industrial chemicals that did not even exist 100 or so years ago. Studies on human populations consistently demonstrate associations between the presence of certain chemicals and higher risks of endocrine disorders such as impaired fertility, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disorders, and cancer.

The xenoestrogen BPA is especially prevalent as a component used in rigid plastic products such as compact discs, food and beverage containers, food and formula can linings, and glossy paper receipts. In the case of food containers, when they are heated or scratched, the BPA can seep out into the food and then be ingested. BPA also escapes from water pipes, dental materials, cosmetics, and household products among others and is released into the environment or directly consumed. According to research, such exposures help account for why BPA has been found in the urine of a representative sample of 95% of the U.S. population.

Notably, BPA can cross the placenta in the womb, indirectly exposing the fetus — it has been found in both maternal and fetal serum as well as neonatal placental tissue. Newborns can also be directly exposed through breastfeeding.

The results of a study presented at ENDO 2016 provide compelling support for the idea that fetal exposure to BPA might increase risk for development of breast cancer in adulthood; in fact, it may explain why overall incidence increased in the 20th century. Lucia Speroni, PhD, a research associate and member of the Soto-Sonnenschein lab at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and the study’s lead investigator, reports, “We found that BPA acts directly on the mammary gland and that this effect is dose dependent: A low dose significantly increased ductal growth, whereas a high dose decreased it.”

“Because these effects are similar to those found when exposing the fetus through its mother, our experiment suggests that BPA acts directly on the fetal mammary gland, causing changes to the tissue that have been associated with a higher predisposition to breast cancer later in life,” Speroni explains. In replicating the process of mammary gland development in vitro, this method additionally allows for live observation throughout the whole process.....The lab team had previously shown that the most harmful time for exposure to BPA is during fetal development by causing alterations in the developing mammary gland.

  Yikes! A good reason to lose weight now rather than years from now, and the importance of not ignoring a weight gain (you know, over the years as the pounds slowly creep up). The researchers found that for every 10 years of being overweight as an adult, there was an associated 7% increase in the risk for all obesity-related cancers. The degree of overweight (dose-response) during adulthood was important in the risk of developing cancer, especially for endometrial cancer. This study just looked at postmenopausal women, so it is unknown if it applies to men. From Medscape:

Longer Duration of Overweight Increases Cancer Risk in Women

A longer duration of being overweight during adulthood significantly increased the incidence of all cancers that are associated with obesity, a new study in postmenopausal women has concluded. The large population-based study was published August 16 in PLoS Medicine.

Dr Arnold and colleagues found that for every 10 years of being overweight as an adult, there was an associated 7% increase in the risk for all obesity-related cancers. The risk was highest for endometrial cancer (17%) and kidney cancer (16%). For breast cancer, the increased risk was 5%, but no significant associations were found for rectal, liver, gallbladder, pancreatic, ovarian, and thyroid cancer.

When the authors took into account the degree of excess weight over time, the risks were further increased, and there were "clear dose-response relationships," they note. Again, the risk was highest for endometrial cancer. For each additional decade spent with a body mass index (BMI) that was 10 units above normal weight, there was a 37% increase in the risk for endometrial cancer.

Study Details: The researchers used data from the huge American Women's Health Initiative (WHI) trial of postmenopausal women (aged 50 to 79 years at time of study enrollment). For this analysis, the team focused on a cohort of 73,913 postmenopausal women. During a mean follow-up of 12.6 years, 6301 obesity-related cancers were diagnosed. About 40% (n = 29,770) of women in the cohort were never overweight during their adult life....Women who were ever overweight were on average overweight for about 30 years, while those who were ever obese had been so for an average of 20 years. The authors found that the risk of being diagnosed with an obesity-related cancer rose for every 10 years of being overweight.

 Get active, really active, to reduce your risk for 5 diseases: breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, and ischemic stroke. Instead of the 150 minutes of brisk walking or 75 minutes per week of running (which is equal to the 600 metabolic equivalent (MET) minutes now recommended by the World Health Organization), this study found that much more exercise is needed for best health results.

This study (which was a review and analysis of 174 studies) found that there is a dose-response effect, with the most reduction in the risk of the 5 conditions by getting 3000 to 4000 MET minutes per week. This sounds like a lot, but the researchers  point out that this can be achieved by incorporating exercise into your daily routines. The researchers write: "A person can achieve 3000 MET minutes/week by incorporating different types of physical activity into the daily routine—for example, climbing stairs 10 minutes, vacuuming 15 minutes, gardening 20 minutes, running 20 minutes, and walking or cycling for transportation 25 minutes on a daily basis would together achieve about 3000 MET minutes a week."

So start thinking creatively about how to increase exercise or activity into your daily life, especially moderate or vigorous intensity activity. For example, park your car far from the store door, or better yet, bicycle or walk to the store from home. From Medscape:

Get Moving: High Physical-Activity Level Reduces Risk of 5 Diseases

High levels of physical activity can reduce the risk for five major diseases, including type 2 diabetes, new research shows. Findings from the systematic review and meta-analysis were published online ....The data, from a total 174 studies comprising 149,184,285 total person-years of follow-up, suggest that the more total regular daily physical activity one engages in — including recreation, transportation, occupational activity, and/or daily chores — the lower the risks for breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke.

However, significant reductions in those conditions were seen only with total activity levels considerably higher than the minimum 600 metabolic equivalent (MET) minutes per week recommended by the World Health Organization for health benefits. That 600 METs equates to about 150 minutes/week of brisk walking or 75 minutes/week of running. (A MET is defined as the ratio of the metabolic rate during that activity to the metabolic rate when resting.) Risks of the five conditions dropped significantly with an increase in MET minutes per week from 600 to 3000 to 4000, with less additive benefit seen above that level.

For reference, the authors say, "a person can achieve 3000 MET minutes/week by incorporating different types of physical activity into the daily routine — for example, climbing stairs 10 minutes, vacuuming 15 minutes, gardening 20 minutes, running 20 minutes, and walking or cycling for transportation 25 minutes on a daily basis would together achieve about 3000 MET minutes a week." "This amount might seem a bit large, but this is about total activity across all domains of life.…For people who currently don't exercise, clinicians could encourage them to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines, [such as] turning household chores into exercise. 

Another recent meta-analysis of trials involving more than one million individuals indicated that an hour of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, offsets the health risks of 8 hours of sitting. The message that physical inactivity is a killer — leading to 5.3 million premature deaths annually worldwide, which is as many as caused by smoking and twice as many as associated with obesity, has been emerging over the past few years, with warnings that "sitting is the new smoking."

This new research is the first meta-analysis to quantify the dose-response association between total physical activity across all domains and the risk of five chronic diseases. The 174 prospective cohort studies included 35 for breast cancer, 19 for colon cancer, 55 for diabetes, 43 for ischemic heart disease, and 26 for ischemic stroke. (Some included more than one end point.)....Higher levels of total physical activity were associated with lower risks of all five outcomes.

With the development of diabetes, for example, compared with no physical activity, those with 600 MET minutes per week (the minimum recommended level of activity) had a 2% lower risk. That risk reduction jumped by an additional 19% with an increase from 600 to 3600 METs/week. Gains were smaller above that, with the increase of total activity from 9000 to 12,000 MET minutes/week yielding only an additional 0.6% diabetes reduction.

Overall, compared with insufficiently active individuals (total activity < 600 MET minutes/week), the risk reduction for those in the highly active category (≥ 8000 MET minutes/week) was 14% for breast cancer; 21% for colon cancer; 28% for diabetes; 25% for ischemic heart disease; and 26% for ischemic stroke

 Credit: Medscape

 A medical article in the journal Addiction states that there is strong evidence that alcohol causes 7 cancers, that there is evidence that it probably causes more, the effects are dose related, and if one also smokes the risks are greatly increased. The 7 cancers are: oropharynx (mouth and pharynx), larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and female breast. An earlier post reported on conflicting results from some studies (e.g. that low to moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial), as well as the finding that effects are dose-related (the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher the risk of cancer). NOTE: One standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol, and is equivalent to one ordinary beer, a small glass of wine (100 mls or 5 oz) or a nip of spirits (30 mls). The article excerpts below state that the strongest effects are from consuming 50 grams or more of alcohol per day (compared to those who don't drink at all). From Medscape:

No Confusion: Alcohol Causes Seven Cancers

There is "strong evidence" that alcohol causes seven cancers, and other evidence indicates that it "probably" causes more, according to a new literature review published online July 21 in Addiction. Epidemiologic evidence supports a causal association of alcohol consumption and cancers of the oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and female breast, says Jennie Connor, MB, ChB, MPH, from the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, in Dunegin, New Zealand.

In short, alcohol causes cancer. This is not news, says Dr Connor. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and other agencies have long identified alcohol consumption as being causally associated with these seven cancers. So why did Dr Connor, who is an epidemiologist and physician, write a new review? Because she wants to "clarify the strength of the evidence" in an "accessible way." 

The newly published review "reinforces the need for the public to be made aware of the causal link between alcohol and cancer," said Colin Shevills, from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, in a press statement....The lack of clarity about alcohol causing cancer, Dr Connor believes, is related to alcohol industry propaganda as well as the fact that the "epidemiological basis for causal inference is an iterative process that is never completed fully."

Dr Connor writes that the strength of the association of alcohol as a cause of cancer varies by bodily site. The evidence is "particularly strong" for cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and esophagus (relative risk, ~4-7 for ≥50 g/day of alcohol compared with no drinking) but is less so for colorectal cancer and liver and breast cancer (relative risk, ~1.5 for ≥50 g/day). "For cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and oesophagus there is a well-recognized interaction of alcohol with smoking, resulting a multiplicative effect on risk," adds Dr Connor.

Other cancers are also likely caused by alcohol. Dr Connor writes that there is "accumulating research" supporting a causal contribution of alcohol to cancer of the pancreas, prostate, and skin (melanoma). One British expert had an opinion about alcohol's carcinogenicity. In a statement about the new review, Prof Dorothy Bennett, director of the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute at St. George's, University of London, said: "Alcohol enters cells very easily, and is then converted into acetaldehyde, which can damage DNA and is a known carcinogen."

In the new review, Dr Connor describes various hallmarks of causality that have been found in epidemiologic studies of alcohol and these seven cancers, such as a dose-response relationship and the fact that the risk for some of these cancers (esophageal, head and neck, and liver) attenuates when drinking ceases. Current estimates suggest that alcohol-attributable cancers at the seven cancer sites make up 5.8% of all cancer deaths worldwide, she states. The alcohol industry has a lot at stake, she says, which in turn leads to "misinformation" that "undermines research findings and contradicts evidence-based public health messages."

But there is no safe level of drinking with respect to cancer, says Dr Connor, citing research about low to moderate levels of alcohol, which has been covered by Medscape Medical News. This was also the conclusion of the 2014 World Cancer Report, issued by the World Health Organization's IARC.

 Amazing!  Researchers found that the bacteria found in breast cancer patients and healthy patients are different. (See post on their earlier work on breast microbiome.) And not only that, but the types of bacteria (Lactobacillus and Streptococcus) that are more prevalent in the breasts of healthy women are considered "beneficial" and may actually protect them from breast cancer. Meanwhile, elevated levels of the bacteria Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis found in the breast tissue adjacent to tumors are the kind that do harm (e.g., known to induce double-stranded breaks in DNA) . This research raises the question: could probiotics (beneficial bacteria) protect breasts from cancer? From Science Daily:

Beneficial bacteria may protect breasts from cancer

Bacteria that have the potential to abet breast cancer are present in the breasts of cancer patients, while beneficial bacteria are more abundant in healthy breasts, where they may actually be protecting women from cancer, according to Gregor Reid, PhD, and his collaborators. These findings may lead ultimately to the use of probiotics to protect women against breast cancer. The research is published in the ahead of print June 24 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

In the study, Reid's PhD student Camilla Urbaniak obtained breast tissues from 58 women who were undergoing lumpectomies or mastectomies for either benign (13 women) or cancerous (45 women) tumors, as well as from 23 healthy women who had undergone breast reductions or enhancements. They used DNA sequencing to identify bacteria from the tissues, and culturing to confirm that the organisms were alive. 

Women with breast cancer had elevated levels of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis, are known to induce double-stranded breaks in DNA in HeLa cells, which are cultured human cells. "Double-strand breaks are the most detrimental type of DNA damage and are caused by genotoxins, reactive oxygen species, and ionizing radiation," the investigators write. The repair mechanism for double-stranded breaks is highly error prone, and such errors can lead to cancer's development.

Conversely, Lactobacillus and Streptococcus, considered to be health-promoting bacteria, were more prevalent in healthy breasts than in cancerous ones. Both groups have anticarcinogenic properties. For example, natural killer cells are critical to controlling growth of tumors, and a low level of these immune cells is associated with increased incidence of breast cancer. Streptococcus thermophilus produces anti-oxidants that neutralize reactive oxygen species, which can cause DNA damage, and thus, cancer.

The motivation for the research was the knowledge that breast cancer decreases with breast feeding, said Reid. "Since human milk contains beneficial bacteria, we wondered if they might be playing a role in lowering the risk of cancer. Or, could other bacterial types influence cancer formation in the mammary gland in women who had never lactated? To even explore the question, we needed first to show that bacteria are indeed present in breast tissue." (They had showed that in earlier research.)

But lactation might not even be necessary to improve the bacterial flora of breasts. "Colleagues in Spain have shown that probiotic lactobacilli ingested by women can reach the mammary gland," said Reid. "Combined with our work, this raises the question, should women, especially those at risk for breast cancer, take probiotic lactobacilli to increase the proportion of beneficial bacteria in the breast? To date, researchers have not even considered such questions, and indeed some have balked at there being any link between bacteria and breast cancer or health."

Besides fighting cancer directly, it might be possible to increase the abundance of beneficial bacteria at the expense of harmful ones, through probiotics, said Reid. Antibiotics targeting bacteria that abet cancer might be another option for improving breast cancer management, said Reid. In any case, something keeps bacteria in check on and in the breasts, as it does throughout the rest of the body, said Reid. "What if that something was other bacteria--in conjunction with the host immune system?