10 Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer Today

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10 Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk

Get Moving

Work up a sweat for at least 30 minutes at a time, five days a week. Physical activity is thought to lower the amount of estrogen in the body, thereby lowering your breast cancer risk, explains Dr. Saslow. In one study, researchers asked 1,550 women ages 40 to 85 if they participated in a sport or physical activity vigorous enough to break a sweat and how often they engaged in the activity at the time of the study, as well as during their adulthood. The most active women were up to half as likely to develop breast cancer as those who did no strenuous activity. Even if you haven't been active since high school gym class, it's never too late to start. A brisk 30-minute walk five days a week can reduce breast cancer risk 18 percent, according to another recent study of more than 74,000 women ages 50 to 79.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

A recent American Cancer Society study of more than 62,000 women found that the more weight women gain after age 18, the greater their risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer. Women who gained more than 70 pounds during adulthood doubled their risk. The extra pounds likely increase estrogen production, which can fuel cancer growth. But if you have gained weight since your teens, don't despair. One study showed that while women who were inactive and overweight had twice the risk of breast cancer of those who were lean and active, being heavier alone did not seem to increase risk among women who regularly exercised.

Focus on Good Fats

Limit the polyunsaturated fat (in corn, safflower, and sunflower oils) and saturated fat (in meat and dairy) in your diet; high levels of either have been linked to breast cancer. Opt for more monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oils. A six-year study in Sweden of more than 61,000 women between the ages of 40 and 76 showed that for each additional 10 grams of monounsaturated fat a woman consumed, breast cancer risk dropped by an estimated 45 percent. Every extra 5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, on the other hand, increased breast cancer risk 69 percent. These findings may explain why  breast cancer rates are low among women in Spain, Greece, and Italy. Although fat makes up 42 percent of total daily calories for people in these countries, most of it typically comes from olive oil.

Veg Out

Carotenoids are powerful cancer-protective pigments found in a wide array of fruits and vegetables. Researchers at New York University compared blood samples from 270 women who subsequently developed  breast cancer to samples taken at the same time from 270 women who remained healthy. Women with the lowest total carotenoid levels had twice the breast cancer risk of women with the highest levels. Aim for five to nine half- to one-cup daily servings of fruit and vegetables, especially carrots, tomatoes, watermelon, or spinach.

Learn to Enjoy Soy

Women in Asia have one-fifth the breast cancer rate of Western women, and scientific speculation has focused on their soy-rich diet. A Japanese study found that the more miso soup (made with fermented soybeans) women consumed, the lower their breast cancer risk. Those who ate three or more bowls a day had half the risk of those who had less than one bowl a day. Soy foods contain phytoestrogens, plant substances that behave in the body like weak forms of estrogen and may protect against breast cancer by latching onto estrogen receptors in breast tissue and locking out cancer-fueling estrogen produced in the body. Include one to two servings of soy foods daily: a cup of soy milk or half a cup of tofu, tempeh, or soy nuts.

Flavor Food with Flaxseed

These nutty-tasting seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which in addition to protecting against heart disease may lower the risk of all types of cancer. Flaxseed is also loaded with lignans, compounds that may decrease estrogen action in the body. Studies have shown that lignans shrink breast tumors, at least in rats. Sprinkle two to three tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your morning cereal, mix it into smoothies, or use flaxseed oil in salad dressings, suggests breast cancer reconstructive surgeon Christine Horner, MD, author of Waking the Warrior Goddess, a book about habits that promote breast health.

Limit Alcohol

As few as one or two drinks a day can up your chances of getting breast cancer, since alcohol intake is linked to higher levels of cancer-fueling estrogen. But if you enjoy an occasional sip of Chardonnay, take 400 micrograms of daily folic acid (the amount found in most multivitamins). While taking folic acid (called folate when found in fruits and vegetables) isn't a license to overindulge, a Mayo Clinic study showed that women with the lowest folate intake who drank even a small amount of alcohol daily -- just half a drink -- had a 59 percent increased risk of breast cancer, but a high intake of folate cancelled out any increased risk among moderate drinkers. It's not clear how folate lessens breast cancer risk, but experts agree most Americans don't get enough of it.

Choose to Breastfeed

Not only can it benefit your infant, but lactation also can suppress ovulation and your body's production of estrogen. Researchers compared the birth rates and breastfeeding patterns among women in developed countries with those in developing nations in Asia and Africa and calculated that the breast cancer risk in developed countries could be cut in half if women had as many babies and breastfed each child for as long as women in developing countries (an average of 30 months per child). Breastfeeding alone would account for two-thirds of the reduced risk. The study also found that for each year of breastfeeding, a woman's breast cancer risk dropped 4 percent.

Put Out That Cigarette

The younger girls are when they first light up, the greater their chances of developing breast cancer before menopause. Other studies suggest that women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer may increase their own risks if they smoke, and that smokers (past and present) who develop breast cancer are twice as likely to get an aggressive form that isn't dependent on estrogen to develop and grow. A recent report from the California Environmental Protection Agency also designated secondhand smoke as a cause of breast cancer, mainly in younger women.

Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics

The next time you have a cough or the sniffles, don't automatically pester your doctor for a prescription. New evidence suggests that the more often you take antibiotics, the higher your breast cancer risk. A study of more than 10,000 women revealed double the breast cancer risk among those who took antibiotics for more than 500 cumulative days (the equivalent of about 25 prescriptions) over an average of 17 years compared with women who never took the drugs. Researchers caution, however, that other factors, such as underlying illness, a weakened immune system, or hormonal imbalances, could account for the elevated risk.

Continued on page 3:  Should You Pop Pills to Prevent Cancer?


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