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  • Home » What can I do to lower my risk of cancer?

    What can I do to lower my risk of cancer?

    Q. I had breast cancer, and I’m doing fine now. But I’m worried about recurrence and I’m also worried my daughter may be at increased risk. Is there anything we can do to lower our risk?

    A. Most breast cancer risk factors are beyond our control. There is little or nothing we can do about risk factors that include inheriting a gene involved in familial breast cancer, having family history of breast cancer, age at first menstral cycle and age at menopause. Some involve lifestyle decisions, such as the age when a woman has her first child.

    However, new studies suggest there are other factors we can control that might help us reduce our risk of ever developing breast cancer and while there is not clear data that they can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, these factors are beneficial for over all good health.

    They involve lifestyle changes, including making sure we get enough exercise, are more careful about what and how much we eat and drink and that we avoid smoking. While scientific data is still being collected to give definitive answers about the effects of exercise, diet, smoking and alcohol, more and more experts say behavioral adjustments can help us stay healthy.

    Here’s how:

    Exercise: A new study shows that women who exercise at least four hours a week have about a third lower than usual risk of developing breast cancer. The study, conducted in Norway, follows at least a dozen other studies that have found a link between physical activity and reduced risk of breast cancer. In this latest study, scientists compared breast cancer incidences in sedentary women with incidence of the disease in women who were more physically active. They found that the more active women were, the less likely they were to get breast cancer. Still, most researchers say that the amount, type and duration of exercise are questions yet to be answered. American Cancer Society experts say it’s possible that strenuous exercise is youth may provide life-long protection against some cancers, including breast cancer, and studies are underway to confirm this.


    Obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer, especially in women over 50, and possibly for other cancers as well.
    While there is still controversy over whether limiting dietary fat can reduce the risk of breast cancer, experts agree that it couldn’t hurt. Many researchers say that a diet high in fat, especially the saturated fat found in meat and dairy products, may increase breast cancer risk. And of course a low fat/ high fiber diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help prevent other diseases, including colon and lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, all of which becomes more important as we get older.

    Alcohol: Alcohol puts women at increased risk of breast cancer and possibly other cancers as well. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.

    Smoking: No studies (so far) have linked cigarette smoking to breast cancer. However, smoking affects overall health and increases the risk for many other cancers, as well as for heart disease and stroke. The best advice: quit smoking now.

    Screening: Regular screening for breast cancer is one of our best weapons against the disease. The American Cancer Society says that asymptomatic women 20 or older should perform breast self-examinations every month. Women 20- 39 should have a physical exam of the breast every three years performed by a physician, physician’s assistant, nurse or nurse practitioner. And women 40 years old or older should have a mammogram each year and continue having physical exams of the breast. Women who have a personal or family history of breast cancer should speak to their physicians about when and how often to have physical exams, mammograms and other screening procedures.

    "tlc" refers all readers’ inquiries to the American Cancer Society’s panel of medical advisors. If you have a question write us at:

    "tlc", American Cancer Society
    1599 Clifton Road, NE
    Atlanta, GA 30329-4251

    Para solicitar información en español, llame al 1-800-ACS-2345. Un especialista en información sobre el cáncer le asistirá en español.

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