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REDUCE YOUR RISK FOR BREAST CANCER WITH THESE STRATEGIES

Breast cancer: Just reading those words can make many women worry. And that’s natural. Nearly everyone knows someone touched by the disease.

But there is a lot of good news about breast cancer these days. Treatments keep getting better, and more is known about how to prevent the disease. Try these simple steps to lower your risk:

Keep weight in check. Being overweight can increase the risk of many different cancers, including breast cancer, especially after menopause.

cancerpink2Be physically active. Exercise is as close to a silver bullet for good health as there is, and women who are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer. 

Eat your fruits and vegetables — and avoid too much alcohol. A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and keep alcohol at moderate levels or lower — a drink a day or fewer. While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. 

Don’t smoke. On top of lowering quality of life and increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and at least 15 cancers — including breast cancer — smoking causes smelly breath, bad teeth, and wrinkles. 

TREATMENTS KEEP GETTING BETTER, AND MORE IS KNOWN ABOUT HOW TO PREVENT THE DISEASE 

Breastfeed, if possible. Breastfeeding for a total of one year or more (combined for all children) lowers the risk of breast cancer. It also has great health benefits for the child.

Avoid birth control pills, particularly after age 35 or if you smoke. Birth control pills have both risks and benefits. The younger a woman is, the lower the risks are. While women are taking birth control pills, they have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. This risk goes away quickly, though, after stopping the pill. The risk of stroke and heart attack is also increased while on the pill – particularly if a woman smokes. However, long-term use can also have important benefits, like lowering the risk of ovarian cancer, colon cancer and uterine cancer — not to mention unwanted pregnancy.

Avoid post-menopausal hormones. Post-menopausal hormones shouldn’t be taken long term to prevent chronic diseases, like osteoporosis and heart disease. Studies show they have a mixed effect on health, increasing the risk of some diseases and lowering the risk of others, and both estrogen-only hormones and estrogen-plus-progestin hormones increase the risk of breast cancer. If women do take post-menopausal hormones, it should be for the shortest time possible. 

Take tamoxifen and raloxifene. Although not commonly thought of as a “healthy behavior,” taking the prescription drugs tamoxifen and raloxifene can significantly lower the risk of breast cancer in woman at high risk of the disease. Approved by the FDA for breast cancer prevention, these powerful drugs can have side effects, so they aren’t right for everyone.

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Know your family history. Women with a strong family history of cancer can take special steps to protect themselves, so it’s important for women to know their family history. You may be at high risk of breast cancer if you have a mother or sister who developed breast or ovarian cancer, especially if at an early age, or if you have multiple family members who developed breast, ovarian or prostate cancer. 

Don’t skip screenings. Despite some controversy, studies show that breast cancer screening with mammography saves lives. It doesn’t help prevent cancer, but it can help find cancer early when it’s most treatable. For most women, regular mammograms can begin at age 40, but specific recommendations vary by age and risk. If you are 40 to 44, you can choose to begin yearly mammograms. If you are 45 to 54, mammograms are recommended every year. For women ages 55 or older, mammograms are recommended every other year. Clinical breast exams and self-exams are not recommended. But you should be familiar with your breasts and tell a health care provider right away if you notice any changes in how your breasts look or feel.


SITEMAN CANCER CENTER AT BARNES JEWISH HOSPITAL IS AFFILIATED WITH BARNES JEWISH HOSPITAL AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS. THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED AT SITEMAN.WUSTL.EDU.