10 Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer Today

How to reduce your breast cancer risk today.
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Assess Your Breast Cancer Risk

One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes, and almost all of us spend a lot of time worrying that we might. A recent survey by the Society for Women's Health Research found that 22 percent of women named breast cancer as the disease they fear most, more than twice as many who said heart disease.

Is the fear founded? In your 30s, your chances of developing breast cancer are generally 1 in 229; by your 40s, the risk is 1 in 68; in your 50s, 1 in 37; and in your 60s, 1 in 26. Those numbers should actually reassure you and help you better understand that even when a study reports a 20 percent increase in risk, that means the likelihood that you'll get cancer if you're 45 has gone from 1 to 1.2 in 68 women. If your risk is doubled, that still translates to just 2 in 68 -- not as scary as it sounds.

Breast cancer risk is higher among those who have a mother, aunt, sister, or grandmother who was affected before age 50. If only your mother or sister had breast cancer, your risk doubles. Having two affected first-degree relatives pushes your risk up to five times the average. Sometimes the problem is a hereditary mutation in one of two genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, which normally protect against breast cancer by producing proteins that hold abnormal cell growth in check. For women with the mutation, the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer can soar up to 80 percent (compared with the general population's risk of 13 percent). Still, this condition accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases. All told, between 20 and 30 percent of all women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease.

For the other 70 percent of us, the risks are harder to pin down. Several factors -- diet, weight gain, alcohol consumption -- can raise our bodies' levels of estrogen, the hormone that feeds many breast cancers. Fortunately, there's a lot we can do every day to keep excess estrogen in check and protect our breasts. Although prevention isn't a word scientists like to use ("'risk reduction' is the preferred terminology," says Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer Society), here are 10 of the smartest moves that the latest research indicates will reduce your breast cancer risk.

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